Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, listens to a question during a press conference in this Empire file photo. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, listens to a question during a press conference in this Empire file photo. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Senate votes to roll back conflict of interest restrictions

Some lawmakers said they were too broad

The Senate voted on Wednesday to rollback some conflict of interest laws that some lawmakers said were too broad and restricted legislators from being able to do their jobs.

“It really comes to your constitutional duty to be able to speak freely as a member of Alaska’s Senate or House,” Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, said. “When do you throttle back the 32,000 people and their voice? And when is it a real conflict with you? I don’t know that we’ve got the perfect balance… It’s meant to be accountability structures… that if you’re grandizing yourself at the state expense with your authority, you should be held accountable.”

Majority Leader Mia Costello said the reason the bill was before the senate was because lawmakers realized they need to return some common sense to unintended consequences of HB 44, a bill which required legislators to declare if they or a family member are financially affected by legislation under discussion. The conflict has to be worth at least $10,000, the bill stated. If the legislation comes to the floor of the House or Senate, the lawmaker had to declare a conflict there and request to be excused from voting. It only took one objection from another legislator to force that person to vote, though, according to the law.

[Legislature’s new ethics law extends to private discussions]

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, said she had to halt her work on health care issues because her spouse works in the health care field.

“These are flaws that surfaced, we all understand they need to be fixed,” Hughes said. “I’m just grateful I get to take this vote today.”

The bill removing the restrictions passed 15-4, with Democratic Sens. Jesse Kiehl, Scott Kawasaki, Donald Olson and Bill Wielechowski voting nay.

Coghill said that the HB 44 definition was too broad and it put a cloud over legislators’ heads. The new bill “resets” that, going back to some of the original language that the state had before HB 44.

As a Republican from Anchorage, Costello said she was unable to have conversations about aviation in her office because her husband works for the industry.

“My representing the district that has the Ted Stevens International Airport… means that I need to be able to talk about aviation,” Costello said. People knew her husband worked for the aviation industry when they voted for her, so it’s not a conflict of interest, she said.

Several amendments were proposed, two by Kiehl and one by Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla. Neither passed.


• Contact reporter Mollie Barnes at mbarnes@juneauempire.com.


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