Ethics Regs Get Legislators’ Attention

Attorney General Daniel Sullivan this week issued new regulations making mostly procedural changes to the Executive Ethics Act.   Most of the changes reflect the recent accusations against former-governor Palin and members of her administration.

The extensive new rules would help determine such things as the circumstances that allow the governor’s family to travel with the Chief Executive,  they set limits on the use of a state cell phone and computers,  and they provide for a state reimbursement of legal fees when an executive branch employee is exonerated of an ethics complaint.

The regulations are currently open to public comment.

However, legislators are concerned that the Attorney General’s regulations might be out-of-step with their own standards.  The House State Affairs Committee will likely open oversight hearings on the regulations. Chairman Bob Lynn says everyone needs to know the rules they will work under.

Both the executive branch and the legislature – we want to do what’s right.  We want to follow the law.  We want to be ethical.  And sometimes you get so complicated, and things come up that you never really thought about before when it comes up.  And so, anytime you can clarify an ethics regulation or any other regulation it might be a good thing to do.

North Pole Senator John Coghill was instrumental in putting together the current Ethics Laws when he was in the House of Representatives.  He says he will ask for Senate hearings on the regulations – to determine just how much leeway the Attorney General has in issuing them.

What we want to do is make sure that people understand what is ethical and what is not – and clear rules to play by.

Anchorage Democrat Max Gruenberg also had a major role in putting together the current laws.   He had been told that the Attorney General has the prerogative to write the regulations.  But Gruenberg says regulations should only “flesh out” the statutes on which they are based.  He makes the argument that the administration has gone far beyond that.

The legislature needs to do it.  And I don’t think the A-G should be doing it at all. I don’t have any problem with him suggesting it, or putting it in a bill.  And he says he hopes to be taking up more substantive issues. And I say this trivializes the implications here.

Legislative questions come up primarily in regulations’ inclusion of reimbursement of legal fees  — what attorney fees are “reasonable” under the regulations,  will confidentiality be lost if a fee is reimbursed,  will the reimbursement be retroactive for people who are not currently covered by the executive ethics act.  The Department of Law is able to respond to those questions – and any concerns that arise from them.  Judy Bockman is an assistant attorney general – also the state ethics attorney.

She says there wasn’t any concern about statutory support for the reimbursement, since it’s offered in other regards and the legislature would have to approve the appropriation before it is made.  However,  she says the Department of Law would welcome legislative involvement.

We found there was a gap with respect to state officials that have proceedings of one kind or another brought against them.  But if the legislature feels that it wants to address these issues, that’s certainly its prerogative and there were some things that we recognized up front that required statutory changes.

The public has until January 22nd to comment on the regulations.  The legislature goes into session on January 19th.,


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