House committee advances plan to address conflicts of interest in the Legislature

A pair of measures tightening the Legislature’s own rules on conflicts of interest are moving through the committee process in the Alaska House of Representatives.

Late Friday afternoon, House Bill 44 and House Concurrent Resolution 1 were approved by the House Judiciary Committee and moved to the House State Affairs Committee. A hearing is set for 3 p.m. Thursday.

The measures, proposed by Rep. Jason Grenn, I-Anchorage, would require a majority vote of the House or Senate to permit a legislator who has a conflict of interest to vote on a piece of legislation.

Currently, the Legislature’s rules state that only one legislator must speak up before that person can vote, and no record is taken of who speaks up to allow the legislator to vote.

“That’s a good sign,” Grenn said after the committee moved the bill and resolution, which are moving through the committee process together.

Grenn said 49 other states have rules tougher than Alaska’s rules.

“I know we don’t like to do things like other states most of the time, but I think this is one of those times when we say, we can do it better,” he said.

Grenn added that he has good intentions and is trying to respond to something his constituents requested, but Grenn’s measure is seen as affecting the Senate more than the House. In the Senate, two lawmakers are employed by oil and gas producers and would be required to declare conflicts on related matters if Grenn’s bill were to pass.

Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage and one of the lawmakers seen as a target of Grenn’s bill, has meanwhile proposed campaign finance reforms that would affect the House more than the Senate.

“I really do believe that most people agree that the intent of something like this is good,” Grenn said of his proposal.

He might even be willing to go along with Meyer’s legislation, perhaps as part of a deal that sees both plans pass.

“If both of those pass the House and Senate, given some changes, I don’t think it’d be the surprise of the session,” Grenn said. “I might not bet on it, but it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise.”

Energy efficiency advances

The effect of Grenn’s measures is limited to the Legislature, but measures that advanced in committees Thursday in the House and Senate could have implications for commercial property owners and municipalities across the state.

House Bill 80 and Senate Bill 39 are companion measures reviving an idea that died at the end of the 29th Legislature.

If either pass the Legislature, cities and boroughs that collect property taxes would be allowed to create programs that loan money to businesses that make energy efficiency improvements with the loan.

The thought behind the bills is that people who own commercial property are discouraged from making improvements because improvements to energy efficiency take a long time to pay off. If a building owner sells the building before paying off the improvements, he or she loses money.

Under the new program, the building owner would take out a loan from the municipality. An assessment would be added to the building’s property tax bill. That assessment would stay on the bill even if the building’s owner sells the building.

Thus, property owners would be encouraged to make improvements even if they don’t intend to keep the building for an extended period, because they wouldn’t be liable for the entire cost.

HB 80 is scheduled for a hearing at 8 a.m. Tuesday in Community and Regional Affairs. SB 39 is scheduled for a hearing at 9 a.m. in Senate Finance.

In other committee action Thursday and Friday:

• The House special committee on military and veterans affairs has approved HB 3, proposed by Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, which allows Alaskans who are members of the National Guard in other states to get leave from their jobs while serving a tour of duty with that branch of the National Guard. The bill heads to the House Rules Committee and the floor next.

• The House State Affairs Committee has approved HB 7, sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka. The bill is awaiting a hearing in the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee. If approved by the House and Senate, the bill would make “ballot selfies” legal. Currently, taking a picture of your completed ballot is illegal. This would make it legal.

• The House Labor and Commerce committee has approved HB 18, sponsored by Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, which allows the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce to hold a “race classic” allowing people to gamble by guessing how long the winning boat in the Race to Alaska will take to sail from Washington state to Ketchikan. The bill goes to the House Finance Committee.

• The House Labor and Commerce committee advanced HB 49, sponsored by Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, which renews the board regulating midwives through 2021. It now goes to the House Finance Committee.

• The House Resources committee has approved HB 51, sponsored by the House Transportation Committee. The bill is scheduled for a 1:30 p.m. hearing Thursday in the House Finance Committee. If passed, the bill would exempt the state’s ferries from the normal standards for wastewater disposal. Most of the ferries are too old to meet those standards (which were designed for small cruise ships) without significant overhaul.

• The Senate committee for Community and Regional Affairs has approved Senate Bill 9, sponsored by Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole. The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee, and if enacted would allow a faster process for designating “military facility zones,” which are eligible for special development programs.

Contact reporter James Brooks at or 419-7732.

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