For Immediate Release: May 20th, 2013
Sen. Wielechowski to introduce legislation to strengthen conflict of interest rules
Legislation will bring Alaska’s laws in line with other states
ANCHORAGE – Senator Bill Wielechowski (D – Anchorage) announced today that he will introduce legislation to strengthen Alaska’s rules regarding actions a legislator can take when he or she has a significant financial stake in a particular issue.
At least 20 states have clear laws banning legislators from voting on a bill if they have a substantial conflict of interest. Many others call for a vote of the full House or Senate when deciding whether a legislator should vote on a particular issue. Still others give legislators the responsibility to decide whether or not to abstain from voting if they perceive they have a substantial conflict.
“Alaska appears to be the only state in the nation that requires unanimous consent of the House or Senate before a legislator with a substantial conflict can abstain from a particular vote,” Senator Wielechowski said. “This is bad public policy and undermines Alaskans’ confidence in our government.”
The bill would require a majority vote to allow a member with a stated conflict to abstain. Current practice in Alaska allows any single legislator to force another legislator with a significant conflict to vote.
Senator Wielechowski’s bill will ensure that conflicts are “substantial” before a legislator could request to abstain from voting. Any benefit a legislator may receive from supporting a particular piece of legislation would have to be greater than the benefits a related group of Alaskans would receive to request abstention.
The bill recognizes the responsibility of legislators to vote, except in clear cases where they may reap direct and significant personal financial gain. This includes cases where an immediate family member or a legislator’s employer would receive a large and direct financial benefit.
“No legislator should be forced to vote on a bill by a single, often anonymous, legislator that will give them or their employer a significant financial benefit. This bill will provide that assurance and bring Alaska’s laws into conformity with many other states,” stated Senator Wielechowski.
For more information, contact Senator Wielechowski at (907) 242-1558 or Michelle Sydeman at (907) 321-1944.