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July 24, 2014

Bill Seeks to Silence Constituents (My Testimony)

The Anchorage Legislative Caucus, 1/11/2014

Saturday at 9:00 am, members of the public stood in long lines to sign up to testify at the Loussac Library. It was the first public meeting of the year for the Anchorage Legislative Caucus. The meeting was called so the legislators could hear from their constituents before they headed off to Juneau in two weeks for the start of the legislative session.

It was clear that the main issue on the minds of the majority of the approximately 150 people who showed up, was education. Teachers, parents, students from the Service High Seminar Program, professors, doctors and other members of the community all testified about the underfunding of Alaska education and the toll it would take on the community as well as the future Alaska economy.

However, many others came to testify regarding bills that were already sitting in committee as well as the new bills pre-filed by legislators for the new session.

While there were many issues I wished to speak on, each of us only had three minutes to make our pitch. I chose to speak on one of the pre-filed bills, HB 235, courtesy of Rep. Pete Higgins, R-Fairbanks. Below is my testimony:

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“Good Morning! My name is Linda Kellen Biegel and I thank the Legislators for this opportunity to speak.

“I am here today because I am alarmed at the introduction of HB 235. It is a bill that would not only restrict the public from records currently available to them at the Alaska Public Offices Commission, but would also make hearings of elected officials that are presently open to the public confidential. In addition, this bill would punish any filer who was to discuss a pending complaint with his/her fellow citizens by dismissing that complaint. This is of particular concern to me due to my past experience with APOC.

“In October 2010, I filed a complaint against a powerful sitting legislator for APOC violations regarding advertisements during his 2010 campaign. I also filed against other members of his campaign staff because my research provided clear evidence that they were direct participants in these violations.

“The first report, and conclusions from the APOC staff, seemed to miss much of that evidence and mostly acquitted the legislator. The APOC staff posted that report in advance of the hearing (as is current procedure), which allowed me to do further research to counter the report. That further research actually included information from APOC’s own staff report and their website. However, it also included an outside newspaper which ran the ads. After my rebuttal testimony, the Commission rejected the staff report and told them to try again. Almost a year later, the legislator settled with APOC, and as part of that settlement he was the only one fined for the violations. The others were just required to take APOC training.”

That outcome would not be possible under this new bill:

– APOC would be unable to make their interim staff report on their website, preventing members of the public from pointing out errors,
– A filer would be unable to contact outside parties to do further research into the complaint once it was filed without it being in danger of dismissal,
– The public and media would be unable to attend the hearings of their elected officials.
– Because the settlement did not cite with wrongdoing the campaign staff folks who were obvious participants in the violation, the paperwork on them would be sealed and unavailable for public view. Because their participation was so intertwined with the legislators, it very well might cause his to be either sealed or redacted.
– And, very importantly, this bill would remove the voice of the constituents from this equation. It is my experience that constituents are perhaps the only motivators for some politicians to behave.

I have experience with other regulatory statutes in the state, including the Executive Branch Ethics Act that became famous back in 2008/2009 under Governor Palin. In August 2009, there was much bluster about instituting punishment for those who filed complaints under that Act and then took that information public.

The Attorney General at that time, Dan Sullivan, issued an opinion on that proposed change to the Act and a number of others, as reported by the Daily News:

‘The new opinion says there’s no legal basis to penalize citizens just for talking about an ethics complaint.

‘Because public dialogue about government actions is speech at the core of the First Amendment, we do not recommend imposing sanctions on a citizen for disclosing information about an ethics complaint he or she has filed,’ the opinion says.

“It’s amazing that, soon, many of our legislators and legislative candidates will be gratefully accepting that Citizen’s-United-Supreme-Court-designated-extension of ‘free speech,’ commonly known as ‘money,’ as it begins pouring into our state, and into their coffers. Yet, at the same time, members of that same legislature (through this bill) are attempting to restrict the oldest and most common form of free speech, commonly known as ‘speech.’”

—————

In the words of Alannis Morrisette, “Isn’t it ironic?”

Comments

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Comments
9 Responses to “Bill Seeks to Silence Constituents (My Testimony)”
  1. John says:

    Thank you Linda. People who run for office should understand that they are putting themselves in the public light. APOC complaints are part of the deal. Trust your constituents enough to see which ones are valid and which are bogus. Hint: They are all valid. Even if it turns out you didn’t violate any rules, the fact that people are concerned about something means you should sit up and take notice. And your constitutuents will evaluate you by your response to the complaint.

    • Alaska Pi says:

      BIG like!

    • mike from iowa says:

      John what you say rings true,but only for the Lib,Dem,Progressive side of the equation. You know,the side that actually looks into issues and complaints and takes them seriously. The other,bad side,not so much. A complaint filed against a wingnut is automatically dismissed as a crazy, liberal conspiracy to besmirch an upstanding,god-fearing christian that has prolly never seen a bible,let alone read it. The bad guys enlist wingnut church officials and korporate shills to organize resistance to either attack the complainant or defend the offender. Sometimes both. I’m guessing a person of conscience could spend all day filing complaints about rwnj getting religion involved in politics,for all the good it does when the whole shebang is run by the enemy.

  2. lkharter says:

    LKB…. excellent presentation. Concise, well-reasoned and persuasive. Keep up the fight.
    LKH

  3. Really? says:

    Thank you, Linda, for this update. It’s amazing you were able to say all you said in just 3 minutes. Well put.

    • Linda Kellen Biegel says:

      I spoke fast but as clearly as I could (and this is the written testimony, I edited out a few lines while I was up there).

  4. Zyxomma says:

    PUBLIC servants must conduct their public service as transparently as possible, not as opaquely as possible. Good going, LKB.

  5. mike from iowa says:

    Glad to know you are still alive,LKB. I hope you took a moment and slapped the s#$t out of the Mayor and put his royal heinie on notice that citizens aren’t putting up with his BS anymore. You can do it with my compliments so Sully comes to iowa so I can slap him. :)

  6. Alaska Pi says:

    Three cheers LKB!
    We have another Ptui! session ahead with bills like this on board.
    The idea that Legs are out of the reach of constituents , except at the ballot box, is starting to tick me off.
    Yes- there are times one or more might be harassed by frivolous horsepunky but they are public servants, not kings and queens, and as such need to be within the reach of the public.
    The system , including APOC, isn’t tough enough to my mind and diluting it all isn’t any kind of answer.
    You go girl! Standing right beside you on this one.

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