I got a copy of a letter* that Sen. French sent to Sen. Giessel about this afternoon's Resource Committee hearing. He asked her to swear in the witnesses from Repsol, BP, and ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil, who, he expects:
". . . will be generally trying to establish that SB 21 is 'working' and that negative consequences would result if SB 21 were repealed by the voters in August. "He goes on:
"There is no issue of greater importance to the economic future of the state than this one. Alaska has struggled since statehood to set a fair oil tax. Our obligation as elected representatives should be to elicit the most reliable and trustworthy information that exists on the topic and to make it available to our constituents.
AS 24.25.060 gives you, as chair of the Resources Committee, the authority to administer an oath to witnesses appearing before your committee. While this power is not normally invoked in the Legislature, it is of course a matter of everyday routine in the court system. By this letter I am requesting that you use your authority under our laws to swear in the witnesses who appear before the committee at tomorrow’s hearing.
I believe that as citizens and as legislators we have an obligation to seek the truth and to promote it."
I didn't realize that witnesses before legislative committees weren't expected to tell the truth. I called Sen. French's office and spoke with an aide, Alex, who said that if a witness does not testify under oath, they cannot be prosecuted for perjury. And thus, if they aren't truthful, it has no legal consequences to the witness.
It seems Sen. Giessel's options are to say:
- "Sure, why not? They have nothing to hide."
- "We don't swear in most people and swearing them in would be an insult to their integrity."
"The investigation surrounding the grounding of Royal Dutch/Shell’s Arctic drilling rig, the Kulluk, had a role in French’s decision to make the request. Through a series of problems the Kulluk went aground. Questions arose about whether Shell took the risky move of a mid-winter tow to avoid paying millions in state property taxes. A Shell executive told the press that tax considerations had nothing to do with the move. The same executive later admitted under oath that Alaska tax laws influenced the move."I covered the Kulluk press releases last year and remember them denying that the tax issue played a role.
In a fair world, Sen. Giessel would have no choice but to agree to swear them in. Is there a choice between risking insulting a witness by asking him to take responsibility for telling the truth or making sure the people of Alaska are guaranteed that if the witness lies, he could be prosecuted for perjury?
In my mind, not swearing them in would be an insult to the people of Alaska.
You can watch the meeting which starts now (1pm Alaska Time) here.
[UPDATE: This is the House Resource committee.
The Senate committee starts at 3:30pm. You should be able to get it here.] *No special scoop, it was in a press release emailed to me and zillions of others.