In this photo from Sunday,  Sen. Gary Stevens R-Kodiak, left, and Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, confer during a discussion on Lunch and Learn events at a Legislative Ethics committee meeting.

In this photo from Sunday, Sen. Gary Stevens R-Kodiak, left, and Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, confer during a discussion on Lunch and Learn events at a Legislative Ethics committee meeting.

Panel: Lunch and Learn could raise ethical issues

JUNEAU — A legislative committee on Monday found that attendance at the increasingly popular lunchtime presentation series at the state Capitol could violate ethic rules covering lawmakers and their staffs, and the issue could be avoided if the meals don’t cost too much or other legislative work isn’t being ignored to attend the session.

The Select Committee on Legislative Ethics issued a formal advisory opinion on questions surrounding the Lunch and Learn events, which are an opportunity for people to hear from presenters on a wide variety of topics in a casual setting.

The committee found that attending the sessions could constitute certain types of ethical violations for lawmakers and their staffs. But the opinion doesn’t change the way that Lunch and Learns work for now, because the possibility of an ethical violation is different from an actual violation.

“I think there’s a lot of questions about Lunch and Learns. Not all were answered,” said Jerry Anderson, administrator of the legislature’s Select Committee on Legislative Ethics. He said it’s “no secret” that it has continued to be an issue.

Some of the Lunch and Learn sessions are related to pending legislation, some not. Discussions in the last year included topics on Medicaid expansion, drones, salmon, etc.

Attendees watch a presentation in a state facility and, typically, the presenter provides a free meal. Videos of the events are archived at the public affairs channel.

After questions were raised if these sessions blur the line between education and advocacy, the offices in the House and Senate that set the rules for each chamber asked the ethics committee to help set guidelines for the events.

The committee found the events could be considered a private benefit to the event presenter and there could be ethical concerns in allowing a person the opportunity to provide a free meal to legislators and legislative staff, but gave leeway to both decisions.

Legislators or legislative employees cannot use public funds or space to support a partisan political activity or privately benefit any person.

Since Lunch and Learn events do create an opportunity for the presenter to access legislators, the committee determined that a legislator or legislative employee can attend as long as it does not interfere with their normal duties or cost the state more than a nominal amount.

Lunch and Learn events could also violate a prohibition against using government assets or resources for a person’s private benefit. According to the ethics committee ruling, the event would have to cost the state more than a “nominal” amount or take up space needed by legislators or their aides for other government purposes to run afoul of the ethics rules.

Legislators sponsoring Lunch and Learns must secure use of a room. Registered lobbying groups, other organizations or lawmakers can buy the food.

The Lunch and Learns could also raise ethical concerns under the Legislative Ethics Act depending on the facts of a case.

As an example, the opinion cited state law which says legislators or legislative employees can accept gifts worth less than $250 from the same lobbyist in a calendar year. If a lobbyist buys a lunch for $10 at one of these events, that will count against the $250 yearly limit.

Other potential ethical concerns raised in the opinion included Lunch and Learns that had a political or campaign purpose, which could open the lawmaker to the appearance of a conflict of interest.

More in News

The Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Encore docks in Juneau in October of 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for t​​he Week of April 22

Here’s what to expect this week.

The Hubbard, the newest vessel in the Alaska Marine Highway System fleet, docks at the Auke Bay Ferry Terminal on April 18. It is generally scheduled to provide dayboat service between Juneau, Haines and Skagway. (Photo by Laurie Craig)
Ongoing Alaska Marine Highway woes are such that marketing to Lower 48 tourists is being scaled back

“We just disappoint people right now,” AMHS’ marine director says during online public forum Monday.

Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, speaks during a news conference on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska Senate considers plan that would allow teens to independently seek mental health care

Amendment by Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, would lower the age for behavioral health care to 16

Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton, speaks during a news conference on Tuesday, March 28, at the Alaska State Capitol. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
House approves tougher route for environmental protections on Alaska rivers, lakes

HB95 would require lawmakers approve any “Tier III” labeling, the highest level of federal protection.

Rep. Andi Story (left, wearing gray), Rep. Sara Hannan (center, wearing purple) and Sen. Jesse Kiehl (wearing suit) talk with constituents following a legislative town hall on Thursday at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
All three members of Juneau’s legislative delegation seeking reelection

Reps. Andi Story and Sara Hannan, and Sen. Jesse Kiehl unopposed ahead of June 1 filing deadline

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Sunday, April 21, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

The “Newtok Mothers” assembled as a panel at the Arctic Encounter Symposium on April 11 discuss the progress and challenges as village residents move from the eroding and thawing old site to a new village site called Mertarvik. Photographs showing deteriorating conditions in Newtok are displayed on a screen as the women speak at the event, held at Anchorage’s Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Relocation of eroding Alaska Native village seen as a test case for other threatened communities

Newtok-to-Mertarvik transformation has been decades in the making.

Bailey Woolfstead, right, and her companion Garrett Dunbar examine the selection of ceramic and wood dishes on display at the annual Empty Bowls fundraiser on behalf of the Glory Hall at Centennial Hall on Sunday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Empty Bowls provides a full helping of fundraising for the Glory Hall

Annual soup event returns to Centennial Hall as need for homeless shelter’s services keeps growing.

Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon and her husband Greg. (Photo courtesy of the City and Borough of Juneau)
Greg Weldon, husband of Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon, killed in motorcycle accident Sunday morning

Accident occurred in Arizona while auto parts store co-owner was on road trip with friend

Most Read