Amid controversy over whether the non-residents can legally serve on state commissions, the Speaker of the Alaska State House is proposing a policy change that explicitly carves out an exception for the board that could oversee development of a natural gas pipeline.
Nikiski Republican Mike Chenault informed fellow lawmakers on Monday that he will offer the rider to a routine bill continuing the existence of the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. The amendment makes clear that the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation board of directors is not subject to a law requiring appointees to be registered Alaska voters.
Chenault says the domestic violence council bill was chosen as a vehicle for the amendment because he wants the law changed before April 11, when the Legislature votes on Gov. Sean Parnell’s appointees. This bill has the potential to make that deadline, since it has already passed the Senate and made it through the committee process in the House.
“You know it wasn’t our first choice,” says Chenault. “But we think it’s important that we get this done before we get to appointments to make sure that it’s clear that in the case of Alaska corporation boards, we want the best.”
Similar exceptions already exist for the Alaska Aerospace Corporation and the Alaska Railroad Corporation.
The change would allow for the confirmation of Richard Rabinow, a former president of the ExxonMobil Pipeline Company who lives in Houston, Texas. Some Democrats in the Legislature have called for Rabinow’s nomination to be withdrawn, and Rabinow has told the governor that he will resign if the law is not clarified. Last month, a controversial appointee to the State Assessment Review Board pulled his name from consideration because of his California residency.
Sen. Kevin Meyer, an Anchorage Republican who is sponsoring the domestic violence council bill, says he’s “disappointed” his legislation was chosen for the amendment.
“You know, this time of year, it’s not unusual for people to hijack bills and put other things on them,” says Meyer. “But I was a little surprised to see that they hijacked this one.”
Meyer’s own preference is to see an Alaskan appointed to the AGDC board. He also has not decided how he will vote on the bill if it comes back to the Senate with the amendment attached.
“There’s a good chance that we don’t concur,” says Meyer. “And then what will happen is we go to a conference committee, and you just simply take this amendment off and the bill’s clean again.”
Chenault says he anticipated questions over his choice of a vehicle, which is why announced his plan to legislators before introducing the amendment. He says ideally, he would attach it to legislation setting terms for a natural gas mega-project, but Senate Bill 138 is not moving quickly enough for that to work.
Chenault believes the change itself is should not be controversial, since it only applies to the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation.
“You know, it’s not for every board,” says Chenault. “You look at the cosmetology board or you’re looking at the hairdressers board, those folks should be from Alaska. They’re dealing with Alaskan issues. But whenever you’re dealing with the possibility of a multi-billion-dollar project, we want to make sure we’ve got the best.”
Chenault plans to introduce the amendment on Thursday during a special meeting of the House Rules Committee.