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The week ended well in terms of ethics.
Gov. Bill Walker signed House Bill 44, which is the most significant ethics reform legislation out of the state Legislature in at least a decade.
Walker’s administration highlighted several points in the bill following the application of his signature.
Walker is particularly pleased with the increased accountability provided in the new ethics law.
Since becoming governor in 2014, Walker has expressed and visibly shown frustration with the Legislature’s delays in addressing state finances.
The bill will increase the Legislature’s incentive to pass an operating budget within its constitutional deadline, which is the 121st day of a legislative session. If it doesn’t, then lawmakers lose their per diem payments of as much as $295 daily until the budget is done.
This and other aspects of the bill appeal greatly to the public, as well. A ballot initiative pertaining to ethics had been signed by 50,000 Alaskans in a state with about only 739,000 people. With approximately a quarter of the population being under 18, that figures to be about 10 percent of the adult population.
The bill also requires that legislators disclose financial interests that they — or members of their families — have in regard to issues that come before the state House and Senate for a vote. For example, if a bill comes before the Legislature that affects an aspect of the oil industry and the income of the spouse of a lawmaker, that should be divulged before any vote.
Two other points in the bill reign in legislative practices, as well. The first bars lobbyists from buying meals and alcoholic drinks for legislators. This speaks only to lobbyists, but they aren’t the only ones who attempt to sway legislators’ actions. Others do, too. Legislators should make a point of always paying for their own food and drink and eliminate the appearance of being bought. Whether it’s a meal at a fast-food joint or a five-star restaurant, the appearance of a free lunch is damaging when it comes to the public’s trust.
Another point in the bill is the elimination of state-funded junkets. It’s surprising that this hasn’t been done away with before. But, the new ethics law requires that any legislative travel abroad, which is often paid for by the state, must be approved and have an official legislative purpose. Again, it’s surprising that this hasn’t been the practice up to this point.
These changes will play well with the public. The public previously limited the length of the regular legislative session in an attempt to get the Legislature to get in, get the work done, and get out. This bill is another attempt at that.
The public also hears about and witnesses the free meals and junkets. Optically, this is a great change.
And, finally, transparency should be the ultimate goal, and the conflict-of-interest rule enhances that.
Gov. Walker and the Legislature served the public well on this bill.