A late budget will now bring consequences for Alaska’s lawmakers.
In a Thursday evening ceremony in Anchorage, Gov. Bill Walker signed House Bill 44 into law. A “good governance” measure sponsored by Rep. Jason Grenn, I-Anchorage, HB 44 will (among other provisions) prohibit lawmakers from collecting per diem expense payments past the constitutional end of the legislative session unless they have already approved a state operating budget.
“This is a day for good governance,” Grenn said at the ceremony.
Walker said the bill is “significant for Alaskans to have faith in the process in Juneau. It changes the way things are done in Juneau, and it’s about time.”
The signing ceremony took place on a sunny evening at Anchorage’s Jewel Lake. With children splashing in the background and spectators nearby eating ice cream, Walker put pen to paper beneath a tent.
“On a day like this, it’s maybe the best place in Anchorage to be,” Grenn said.
House Bill 44 was designed by Grenn in 2017 as part of a package to eliminate conflicts of interest within the Legislature. As originally drafted, HB 44 was intended to be paired with House Concurrent Resolution 1. Put together, the two measures would have required lawmakers to declare their conflicts of interest on specific pieces of legislation, and then their fellow lawmakers would have been allowed to decide whether those conflicts are significant enough that the relevant lawmaker should be barred from voting.
HCR 1 came up for a vote in April 2017, but it needed 27 lawmakers to back its passage; only 21 did. Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, joined every member of the House Republican Minority to vote it down.
HB 44, meanwhile, advanced through the legislative process in 2017 and 2018, then in the final months of the 2018 session, was amended to include the text of a ballot initiative being pushed by Grenn; Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka; and an Anchorage Republican, Bonnie Jack.
That ballot intiative, the so-called “good governance” initiative, included the cuts to per diem. It also placed tougher restrictions on gifts to lawmakers and on foreign travel by legislators.
“It eliminates things that build up walls between people and their lawmakers,” Grenn said.
The Alaska Constitution calls for a ballot initiative to be removed from the election if lawmakers approve a “substantially similar” measure. HB 44 met that criteria, according to the Alaska Department of Law.
While the measure was removed from the ballot, Grenn and Walker each said the existence of the initiative was critical to passage of the bill.
“This is a bill that would not be here without what he did and his team,” Walker said of Grenn and initiative supporters.
“I was the sponsor of this bill, but it was Alaskans that made this happen,” Grenn said.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2258.