House takes measures against Fansler after alleged assault
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon says state Rep. Zach Fansler has been asked to turn in his office keys and could lose his committee assignments Wednesday, but House leadership has stopped short of recommending his expulsion.
Fansler, a Bethel Democrat, has been asked to step down after the Juneau Empire reported Saturday that he had allegedly struck a woman Jan. 13 and broke her eardrum.
Edgmon (D-Dillingham) said Tuesday morning during a news conference at the state Capitol that Fansler has yet to respond to his colleagues’ resignation request.
"We have not heard from Rep. Fansler," Edgmon said. "It’s my expectation that we likely will hear (from him); I’m hoping sometime soon."
Fansler on Monday was stripped of this staff, who have been re-assigned to the Rules Committee, run by Chair Gabrielle LeDoux (R-Anchorage).
On Wednesday a special panel tasked with providing lawmakers their committee assignments is scheduled to meet after John Lincoln gets sworn in as former Rep. Dean Westlake’s replacement.
Edgmon said there would also be “some other adjustments,” which could include stripping Fansler of his committee assignments.
Fansler serves as co-chair for the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee and vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee while serving on a handful of other panels.
Edgmon also said he believes Fansler faces imminent criminal charges.
“I think the information that has come forward would indicate that there probably would be charges,” Edgmon said, “but to sit here and to tell you definitively that there are going to be charges, I think would be getting way ahead of things.
“But if you asked me for my own personal assessment, I would say that there probably would be charges.”
Edgmon’s majority caucus met early Monday evening to discuss Fansler’s status. After the meeting and again Tuesday, Edgmon would not commit to expulsion talks.
Under the state's constitution, a successful expulsion vote requires two-thirds of the House.
Only one state lawmaker has ever been expelled from the Legislature. On March 2, 1982, the Senate expelled Sen. George Hohman, like Fansler a Bethel Democrat, but as Edgmon noted Hohman had already been convicted of a crime -- bribery.
“At this point, we’re waiting to hear from Rep. Fansler,” Edgmon said. “We hope we hear from him in [short] order and we will act accordingly.”
Alaska law grants lawmakers immunity during legislative sessions, but UAA Legal Studies Professor, Ryan Fortson, says the statute only applies to actions relative to legislative duties.
“So, for instance, legislators have immunity for things such as defamation for statements they may make during the legislative session,” Fortson explained. “If they vote to pass a law that is later declared unconstitutional they can’t be sued for their vote.”
Fortson says that immunity wouldn’t apply to an alleged assault outside of the capitol building.
“Almost certainly not. I haven’t seen any claims by the legislator or his counsel that they believe this was made pursuant to his legislative duties,” Fortson said.
Liz Raines contributed to this report.
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