For Immediate Release: February 12th, 2014
Sen. Wielechowski: “We must strengthen conflict of interest rules to bolster public trust in elected officials”
JUNEAU – Senator Bill Wielechowski (D–Anchorage) today introduced legislation to strengthen rules governing when legislators with a significant financial stake in a particular issue can vote.
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 may 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 their government.”
The bill would require a majority vote to allow a member with a stated conflict to abstain. Current practice in Alaska allows a 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 their judgment may be clouded by 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.
“Alaskans deserve to know that legislators are voting with the peoples’ interests at heart, not their own. 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.