Friday, February 05, 2010

Legislative Council on Public Relations, Facebook, and Other Issues

I got to the Capitol at 8am Thursday morning to hear the discussion in the State Affairs Committee over Rep. Gruenberg's bill to apply proportional representation to the Legislative Council and the Legislative Audit and Budget Committee.  You can read about that here with background on these committees.

[Front left, Rep. Stoltze; in blue Rep. Peggy Wilson; at the end of the table Rep. Harris, Chair; I think the next person in Pam Varni, head of Leg. Affairs Office;  Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom;  and on the far right, Sen. Johnny Ellis.]

So I thought I should see a Legislative Council meeting and there was one at 4pm Thursday.  This is the group made up of Senators and Representatives to deal with joint issues and to act for the Legislature during the interim between sessions.  So they should be covering weighty stuff.

There were a lot of housekeeping issues.  You can see all the details below.  They did talk about the Request for Proposal that was characterized in the press a while back as hiring a PR firm to lobby against protections for beluga whales and polar bears.  The best soundbite of the day came from Senator Ellis:   "Scientists doing science is fine if it is professional. Politicians doing science will get us a black eye."

There was also a long discussion about allowing access to Facebook on Legislative computers.  Right now it is blocked.  They postponed the decision.  Details in the rough minutes below.

Below are my rough notes. WARNING:  I typed as fast as I could, but there are gaps, mispellings, and probably paraphrasing as I tried to catch up. As always, I'm offering this to give an overall sense of things, but don't rely on the details completely. I apologize in advance to anyone I've seriously mischaracterized.  Let me know and I'll make  corrections.  I've been something of a perfectionist most of my life, but I know if I go for perfection here, there will be nothing posted.  Notes in [Brackets] are my notes of explanation as I write this now.

I've taken the online agenda and then written my notes between the lines:


Feb. 4, 2010 4:05 opened
1.  Roll Call: Harris, Chenault, Dahlstrom , Stoltze, Wilson, Guttenberg, Sen Davis, SEn Egan, Sen Ellis, Hoffman, STedman, Stevens. [I didn't catch everyone, and there was someone audio-conferenced in.  I believe it was Senator Lyman Hoffman]
2.  Approve Minutes
3.  FY09 Audit - [ I don't have notes.]

4.  Sanctioning of Charitable Events: 
[One of the waivers for lobbyists giving gifts to legislators is giving tickets to charity events.  So, they can buy tickets to such events and give them to the legislators and their staff.  There is a $250 limit.  But, the charities have to be approved.  And so, if I understood this right, the Leg. Council was approving these charity events.]
Thanksgiving in March;
Legislative Skits;
Neighbors Feeding Neighbors;
Fahrenkamp Classic Events;
Kenai River Classic Event -
Shamrock ???
Approving charitable events approved.

5.  Late Per Diem Requests - Travel & Per Diem Policy Approval
Speaker Chenault and for Rep. Gruenberg-
Stolze - can we have a round contrition from both members?
Chenault - I don’t grovel very well, as you know.
Stolze - I withdraw my objection

6.  New per diem policy  [If I were any good, I'd link to it, but I'm way behind on things as it is and I can't find it immediately.  I couldn't bring up the documents for this meeting on my computer, so I don't have the backup.  Sorry.]

7.  Presentation of State Flag Policy - To present a flag flown over the capitol to families of legislators or former legislators when they die.

8.  Fosler Law Group Contract Amendment - Extends Mr. Foster’s contract for one year, not increasing the contract amount. Balance of $28K, offers services to Leg. Council and member. He doesn’t charge if we don’t ask him to do anything.

Item 6 back, [Rep. Stedman came in late and had a comment on Item 6 so it was reopened]  Harris: ... even though we approved it - Per diem policy. Sen Stedman, can you give us your concern.
Stedman: Apologize for being late, was in another meeting. Page 3, about eating allowance. If I leave from Sitka to Anchorage and return the same day, I have to take the 6am flight out and don’t get back until 11pm. [I think the issue was that the new regulations don't allow reimbursement for food you eat on the day you leave home.  And this was what he was questioning.]
Harris: I’ll have Pam give explanation.
Pam: This policy goes along with travel officers guidelines. Not affected during session since you already get a meal allowance. Only for the interim time. Your suggestions don’t go along with the ?? guidelines.
Harris: We’ll leave it in place and come back to it at next meeting.
Not revisiting our vote, just brought it back so member could discuss it.

9.  Revisor's Bill - Kathryn Kurtz, Leg. Affairs Agency. One job is to create bill to to clean up the language (I think). Cleaning up problems with the language and references - ‘and’ or ‘or’ etc. References explaining why the change was made. If approved, can be introduced by the Rules Committee.  [The Legislative Affairs office reviews parts of the statutes each year and then recommends changes which don't change the law, but simply clean up the way it is written - typos, consistency, etc.]
Harris: I remember these things being really thick. Things must be getting better.

10.  90-Day Session Report - [Each House was asked to do a report on how the new 90 day session is going.  The House wrote a report, but the Senate committee sent in three separate 'reports' from the three members.  I don't have copies of these.]
Harris: Sen. Egan says he wants to cut it down to 60 days cause he’s tired of his home town….[Egan represents Juneau]
From the Senate it’s sort of a mixed bag
????: I beg your pardon
I didn’t say you were a bag, just a mixed bag.
And from the House a report that is unanimous.

Stoltze: Thank you, debate ongoing ad naseum, part of the fabric of the session. Just happy with the 90 day session. Reflect there’s no desire on the part of this committee to change, just passing on the report.
Wilson: Process question. So it does take a bill?  Our Constitution says we have 120 days, do we have to do anything?
Harris: You can do anything you want and I’m sure someone will litigate. I think the Constitution is clear that we are not to go over 120 days.
Some of you aren’t speaking into the mikes and you aren’t being picked up.
OK, well, send them [Reports] on.

11.  Building Naming Policy Discussion -
Brought to me by Sen. Stevens.
Stevens: Just seemed to me as ???
Harris: process for naming for someone who isn’t a House or Senate member. And also concerned about naming about someone who is still alive.
Stevens: We could name it after someone who later does something outrageous
OK, take it up and bring it back.
Stolze: I appreciate the level of caution. Concerned about Beltz room, someone said, Who was William Beltz, I take those issues seriously, have a lot respect for the past history. Hasty moving toward people we have emotions and friendship for. Deeper appreciation for the longer history. People who reigned and ruled in this room that staffers know nothing about. I’d like to reserve some of the real lions of this process. We should not forget our richer past.
We’ll bring it back.

12.  IT Subcommittee Recommendations: 
-Web Filtering Authority; [This is about having a joint committee to decide on what sites to block on the Legislative computers.  Now it is done separately by each House.  The proposal, as I understand it, is to have just one authority on this.]
Curtis: Info SErvices manager for Leg. Affairs. Establish who is in charge for web filtering, which sites should be blocked and allowed. This is to consolidate so we have one policy maker and both chairs have worked on this together.
Stedman: Committee action to
Harris: Not sure, brief at ease.
Harris: Motion will be that Leg Council decision making body for blocking sites, and Leg Council chair in charge of making exceptions. I don’t intend to be a dictator, every issue that comes up we don’t need to have a meeting of the whole committee.
Stedman: Clarification. Comm will take positive action on list of websites and chair can override that if brought by particular legislator.
Harris: Yes, probably staff members will do a lot of this. Part of the issue was that the Speaker and Pres may have different policies and they want a uniform policy and this the that body for both.

-Facebook Access - [Facebook is currently blocked on Leg. computers.  People have requested it be accessible.]
Curtis: number of offices ask for access to to better communicate with constituents. For years we have had different interpretations. Now requesting to lift the block on FB and see if this works, in terms of virus, campaign issues, etc. Let them use it for three months to see if it is something we want to do.
Dahlstrom: If this goes through I suggest it be 30 day, not 90 days because we would be out of session by then. Concerned about virus, but mostly ethics, even if it is unconscious. Everything we do has pitfalls, Need to be cautious. I think FB is great, but should do it on their personal computers, i-Phones. I would be a no vote on this.
Harris: I believe it reads to only be during the session. I think that deals with your time issue.
Wilson: This brings up something. I cannot use my personal computer and get on the network in the building.
Harris: I thought we fixed that.
Wilson: You did, but if we are going to open up, maybe I should go back.
Curtis: Originally we were looking at 90 day session, but yes, that’s what we meant.
Stoltze: Where has been the impetus. I don’t have facebook, my neices and nephews do, I heard one of our former politicians uses it. I don’t understand the boundaries and barriers of this. The public doesn’t see the problems we see. I hear about teenagers and pedophiles. How do we keep that off our system. I’m confessing a total lack of knowledge on this. I don’t know enough to vote other than negatively.
Harris: Any folks on IT subcommittee want to talk.
John: John Bitney, I work in your office and on the committee. When we started this discussion about FBI on legislative systems I was skeptical. I would say the discussion your having common in other legislatures and board rooms. It’s a heavily used system and several offices have come to ask for access with legislative computers. We discussed it with the Ethics committee. If this were a pproved, if your office begins to use it. You can’t start it and ignore it. If you open a site you need to actively manage it, partake and keep and eye on it. Valuable tool, but requires active management and monitoring.
Stoltze: Said social networking, makes me shy about this. Maybe I’m totally off base technologically, What are we opening ourselves up for. If someone decides to be a social networking, while I’m working on the budget, I don’t want to see personnel doing a whole new activity. I’ve heard people spend a whole evening on FBI. I’m really nervous about this. ….
Wilson: Curt, how does security, because I was told if I connected to the network I’d be a security risk. We’re opening up to the whole world.
Curt: FBI is the most popular website on the internet, about 200 million users. When you have lots of usage, it’s a target for hackers. Those are the security related issues. Great way to exchange info and that info could be laden with virus and trojans.
Gatto: If someone asks you to friend them, I just say no if I don’t know them.
Curt: I have a FB account, don’t do much, checking it out for job.  I had someone ask me to be their friend, it turned out to be a cousin I didn’t know. If your constituent asks and you say no….
Gatto: Bitney says if we don’t maintain it we’re in trouble

Harris: move it to next meeting

13. Personal Service Contracts/PERS Waivers -[I didn't understand what they were talking about]
Skiff Lobaugh: Memo from Pam Varni, Jan. 26
Stedman: I think it’s a bad call, impact isn’t so severe on treasury, retire Friday, then get your pension and show up Monday and get your salary and pension.
Need to have continuity amongst ourselves. Employees compensated well, have good benefit package. I understand some after 30 years have to cap out. That’s just embedded in the system. Not good public policy.
Skiff: Differences between executive and legislative employment. Leg. and Exec has differences that makes the comparison different.
Stedman: As legislators we have employees who are hired for a session then terminated, possibly hired for the interim. We have a quirk in the sytem how we operate. But overall, I think it isn’t a good practice. Gun shy with this policy.
harris: What would you like, mull it over a bit?
Stedman: Mull it over, no need for a new committee.
XXXX: I would agree, this is a big policy call and will affect how other employees are treated in the future.
14.  RFP 505 - Public Relations Consultations -[this is about the Request for Proposal that got a lot of attention earlier, when it was characterized in the press as asking for  a PR firm to advertise against protections for beluga whales and polar bears.]
Harris:  In Leg. Council we put money into Leg Council to look at Global Warming and Endangered species. Intended for Execs to spearhead it. What this proposal does, Eddie Grasser has talked to you, requests a proposal for people around the country, what the leg. should do to address this issue. We have belugas and polar bears and we need to see what is out there and help us defend ourselves, work with other states. We have the proposals back. Haven’t seen them, They are all sealed. I would appoint subcommittee to evaluate the proposals. We money in the interim

Break -

Concerned about black eye for Alaska.
Eddie, proposal ended up being a conference and proposal after that from what we find out after that. We want to look for a balanced approach, both sides being invited. If you don’t do that you will have a black eye. My discussions with leg leg. Actions would be things only legal for the governor can do legally.
Ellis: Scientists doing science is fine if it is professional. Politicians doing science will get us a black eye. We need to be mindful that there is great pr damage that could come from this if we do it wrong.
Harris: I agree, you want to sit on this?
Stoltze: I share STedman’s concerns about time. Go in with some concerns as Sen. Ellis. Follow your leadership as always, sometimes with more trepidation than others. I think we have a firebreathing AG working with F&Game my pref is to give him the money to work with other AG’s in the US. Just because we have money, doesn’t mean it is imperative to spend it. The misuse of ESAs affects North slope and ESA’s permeate every part of the state. We had NS borough talking about how ESA’s affect their borough. Appreciate Sen. Ellis’ concerns. I’ve been a skeptic, cautious nature, frugal nature. Model myself after first governor on frugality.

I’ll appoint a subcommittee, not right now, see who wants to be on it.

15.  NOBEL Conference Funding Request.
Davis: Package for Request for Conference to be held in Anchorage, Group black state elected officials. ABout 365 African American elected to state legislature in 48 states. I would like to get 1000, but even 500 would be good. I’m proud of my state. They are going to sightsee and spend money here. I’m requesting $50,000 to cover the conference, Marriot Hotel in Anchroage. I’ve hosted other Womens Conferences. I have reputation in Lower 48 where people think they have to come to my state because they’ve heard about my conferences. $50K would just be a portion, we are getting money from other sources

Stedman: IN support, I was in San Diego, several of her colleagues, they were all excited about coming up, if it weren’t for Sen. Davis, but it’s a good opportunity for the State. Don’t know what the budget has.

Dahlstrom: I support strongly, but I would like to know if I would be able to come if I am not black.?

Davis: This is open to everyone.

?????; I support it….
Motion by Harris.

16.  ESA - Executive Session: Legislative Office Space -  [Since this was in executive session, I had to leave.]

17.  Other Business

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.