Legislature(2005 - 2006)HOUSE FINANCE 519

03/02/2005 01:30 PM FINANCE

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Heard & Held
Heard & Held
Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled
SENATE BILL NO. 60                                                                                                            
     An Act extending the termination date of the Statewide                                                                     
     Suicide Prevention Council; and providing for an                                                                           
     effective date.                                                                                                            
SHANNON  STRAUBE, STAFF,  SENATOR  BEN STEVENS,  stated  that                                                                   
suicide is  an Alaskan  tragedy.   On average, suicide  takes                                                                   
130 Alaskans every  year, which is nearly twice  the national                                                                   
average.  With  Alaska's large geography,  multiple cultures,                                                                   
and  many communities,  addressing suicide  is a  complicated                                                                   
Ms.  Straube  continued,  in   2001,  the  22   Alaska  State                                                                   
Legislature  enacted legislation  that created the  Statewide                                                                   
Suicide  Prevention Council  (SSPC)  and tasked  it with  the                                                                   
mission to  reduce suicide  through coordination  with public                                                                   
and  private entities  as well  as its  own initiatives,  and                                                                   
broaden  suicide  awareness.     Under  A.S.  44.29.350,  the                                                                   
Council  is charged  with advising  the  Legislature and  the                                                                   
Governor on "actions that can  and should be taken to improve                                                                   
health and wellness throughout  the State by reducing suicide                                                                   
and its effect on individuals, families and communities."                                                                       
The  Council is  made  up  of 15  members.   In  addition  to                                                                   
legislative  and executive  branch  members,  there are  nine                                                                   
public members.   The public  appointments represent  a broad                                                                   
spectrum  of individuals  from rural  and urban  communities,                                                                   
clergy,  youth, and behavioral  health  community.  There  is                                                                   
one part-time staff person to  coordinate council activities.                                                                   
Ms. Straube  noted that  among the Council's  accomplishments                                                                   
is a  statewide suicide  prevention plan.   The plan  sets up                                                                   
goals and strategies for suicide  prevention.  Currently, the                                                                   
Council is also in the process  of implementing a Follow Back                                                                   
Study and  a public awareness  campaign.  The  media campaign                                                                   
fulfils the Council's mission  to educate Alaskans on suicide                                                                   
and its devastating effects.                                                                                                    
Ms.  Straube continued  that  the  findings from  a  recently                                                                   
conducted sunset  audit recommend the SSPC continue  the work                                                                   
of  research,  broadening  public   awareness,  collaborating                                                                   
prevention and  intervention efforts around the  State and in                                                                   
making recommendations to the Governor and Legislature.                                                                       
Ms.  Straube concluded  that SB  60  extends the  termination                                                                   
date of the  Council to 2009, which will allow  the statewide                                                                   
Suicide Prevention Council to continue in the work.                                                                             
3:07:43 PM                                                                                                                    
PAT   DAVIDSON,  LEGISLATIVE   AUDITOR,   LEGISLATIVE   AUDIT                                                                   
DIVISION, noted  that  the  Division conducted  an  audit  to                                                                   
determine if the termination date  for the Suicide Prevention                                                                   
Council should be extended.                                                                                                     
She pointed out that the Council  advises the Legislature and                                                                   
the Governor  on suicide  and suicide  prevention in  Alaska.                                                                   
Recently,   the  Council   completed   a  statewide   suicide                                                                   
prevention plan,  which establishes goals and  strategies for                                                                   
suicide prevention.   The Council has been  providing suicide                                                                   
prevention   training,    coordinating   statewide    suicide                                                                   
prevention  efforts  and  provides  technical  assistance  to                                                                   
communities  as they develop  their own  plans.  The  Council                                                                   
has been operating in public interest  in a manner consistent                                                                   
with its statutory responsibilities.                                                                                            
Ms. Davidson noted that the termination  date for the Council                                                                   
is  June   30,  2005;  the   Division  recommends   that  the                                                                   
termination date be extended until June 30, 2009.                                                                               
She  continued, during  the review,  the Division  identified                                                                   
that Council funds were misspent  by the Department of Health                                                                   
and Social  Services.   Additionally, unclear  communications                                                                   
between the Department and the  Council about available funds                                                                   
resulted  in  the  Council  curtailing  some  activities  and                                                                   
ultimately, lapsing over 60% of the original funding.                                                                           
Ms. Davidson  advised that  in the  report, the Division  has                                                                   
made recommendations for improvements including:                                                                                
   ·    1. That the community based suicide prevention                                                                          
        grants issued by the Department of  Health and Social                                                                   
        Services,   conform   to   the   recently   developed                                                                   
        statewide suicide prevention  plan.  The  Division is                                                                   
        not recommending that the Council  become involved in                                                                   
        the grant  making process; rather  the Department  of                                                                   
        Health  & Social  Services  staff  modify  the  grant                                                                   
        application  process so  that  communities  read  the                                                                   
        statewide suicide  prevention plan  and certify  that                                                                   
        the grant  for their  local plan  is consistent  with                                                                   
        the State plan.                                                                                                         
   ·    2. That the Department of Health and Social Services                                                                    
        establish a  more formalized  and  helpful system  of                                                                   
        reporting financial information  to the Council.   It                                                                   
        is not clear where the flow of  financial information                                                                   
        between the  Department  and the  Council went  awry.                                                                   
        However,  given   the   Department's  resources   and                                                                   
        sophistication  in obtaining  financial  information,                                                                   
        the Division  believes  it is  incumbent  on them  to                                                                   
        ensure  the   Council   clearly   understands   their                                                                   
        financial situation.                                                                                                    
   ·    3. Besides the lack of effective access to FY04                                                                         
        funds,  the  Council   was  hampered  by   delays  in                                                                   
        appointment  of  members.    The   Legislative  Audit                                                                   
        Division recommends that  the Office of  the Governor                                                                   
        make appointments to the Council in a timely manner.                                                                    
3:11:21 PM                                                                                                                    
Co-Chair Chenault  voiced his appreciation that  the Division                                                                   
had provided  important  information.   He noted his  concern                                                                   
with the impact of the fiscal note.                                                                                             
Representative    Hawker   requested   further    information                                                                   
regarding the fiscal note.                                                                                                      
Ms. Davidson  referenced Page 6  of the Audit Report.   (Copy                                                                   
on File).  Page 6 provides a summary of the FY04 spending.                                                                      
   ·    $35,000 dollars was spent on Council related                                                                            
        activities, which represents 20% of the budget.                                                                         
   ·    $32,000 was spent for office furnishings for the                                                                        
        information    technology    systems    within    the                                                                   
        Department.  The  Division has  identified that  as a                                                                   
        concern.    Statute  addresses  reimbursable  service                                                                   
        agreements and  requires that  services be billed  on                                                                   
        actual  and  specific  costs  or  a  cost  allocation                                                                   
        methodology.   Those costs were  not specified costs.                                                                   
        The Division  looked at  the  reasonableness of  that                                                                   
        amount coming out  of the budget.   The cost  did not                                                                   
        have an allocation plan.                                                                                                
   ·    The Council lapsed $95,000 dollars into various                                                                         
       working reserves accounts in the general fund.                                                                           
Representative Hawker voiced concern  that the Administration                                                                   
had placed the  Council in that situation.   The Reimbursable                                                                   
Service  Agreement   (RSA)  makes   the  legislative   budget                                                                   
difficult.    He  questioned  the  furniture  costs  for  the                                                                   
Council.  Ms.  Davidson stated that those funds  were used to                                                                   
purchase furnishings for the information technology group.                                                                      
Representative Hawker  emphasized that problem,  and that the                                                                   
Committee should  address it.   He questioned if there  was a                                                                   
mechanism in place to help keep spending in line.                                                                               
Ms.  Davidson  advised  that  spending  was  a  violation  of                                                                   
statute.  A  small cost associated with the  Council could be                                                                   
used in  support of  department-wide information  technology,                                                                   
but  clearly not  that amount  of  their budget.   There  are                                                                   
statutes  in place  to prevent  that.   She did  not know  of                                                                   
anything that could be done on a budgetary basis.                                                                               
3:17:06 PM                                                                                                                    
Representative  Hawker stated  that would  be an  appropriate                                                                   
question for the Department.                                                                                                    
DIANE  CASTO,  MANAGER,  PREVENTION  AND  EARLY  INTERVENTION                                                                   
SERVICES FOR THE  DIVISION OF BEHAVIOR HEALTH,  DEPARTMENT OF                                                                   
HEALTH AND SOCIAL SERVICES, advised  that she had been a part                                                                   
of the conversations regarding  the audit and the concerns of                                                                   
the Department.   The Department  is aware of  these concerns                                                                   
and  is committed  to  "not falling  down  that road  again".                                                                   
They  have made  a  commitment to  monitor  the actions  more                                                                   
carefully.   The  Department  was  in the  midst  of a  major                                                                   
reorganization and  new people were coming in and  out of the                                                                   
newly formed Division of Behavioral  Health.  The Council was                                                                   
one of the entities that got "lost"  as their coordinator had                                                                   
quit.  Ms. Casto  pointed out that there are  many oversights                                                                   
that  lead  to  the  confusion.    She  reiterated  that  the                                                                   
Department is committed to doing better monitoring.                                                                             
Vice-Chair  Stoltze   stated  that  the   Suicide  Prevention                                                                   
Council is  so important  and that he  felt outraged  at that                                                                   
type of abuse.                                                                                                                  
3:20:14 PM                                                                                                                    
Representative Joule  inquired if the  bill would be  held in                                                                   
Committee.    Co-Chair  Meyer   replied  that  it  would  and                                                                   
requested that  the Department  be present with  the Director                                                                   
of Administrative Services.                                                                                                     
Representative Joule  noted that the Council  has been tasked                                                                   
with  very heavy  responsibilities and  that the  Legislature                                                                   
cannot sit by idly with that type of interference.                                                                              
Co-Chair  Chenault expressed  how  "upsetting" it  is to  see                                                                   
that  amount of  money being  spent  on such  projects.   The                                                                   
Council is  tasked with an important  job and if they  do not                                                                   
have the  ability to run the  Council in an  appropriate way,                                                                   
then they are impaired.                                                                                                         
Co-Chair  Chenault  questioned   what  has  happened  on  the                                                                   
Council since inception.  He requested  that a Council member                                                                   
be present  at the  next meeting  to discuss these  concerns.                                                                   
He wanted  to know  their goals  in the  future and  how that                                                                   
money related to what has been spent.                                                                                           
3:23:50 PM                                                                                                                    
Representative  Weyhrauch pointed  out that  the Director  of                                                                   
the  Division of  Administrative  Services  also the  Finance                                                                   
Manager  of Services,  should  be  present to  discuss  these                                                                   
concerns.   He reiterated  the importance  of the  questions.                                                                   
He  pointed  out  the fact  that  the  auditor  assessed  the                                                                   
situation and  the Department's  response was defensive.   He                                                                   
referenced    a   letter    dated    December   27,     2004.                                                                   
Representative Weyrauch urged more accountability.                                                                              
3:25:13 PM                                                                                                                    
Representative  Joule  asked if  the  Council  was closer  to                                                                   
hiring a  coordinator.  Ms. Casto  noted that Kathy  Kraft is                                                                   
the current coordinator  for the Council, as  part time work.                                                                   
Originally, it was a full time  position and Mary Carlson was                                                                   
then the  coordinator.   The current  plan is  to look  for a                                                                   
more permanent fulltime coordinator.   Ms. Casto did not know                                                                   
the timeline.                                                                                                                   
Representative Hawker recommended  that the Committee "expand                                                                   
the thought  process" regarding  the issue.   He stated  that                                                                   
there  are a  number of  councils that  are not  consolidated                                                                   
within  the Department  of Health  &  Social Services  budget                                                                   
such as:                                                                                                                        
   ·    Mental Health Board                                                                                                     
   ·    Alcohol and Drug Abuse Advisory Board                                                                                   
   ·    Commission on Aging                                                                                                     
   ·    Suicide Prevention Council                                                                                              
Representative   Hawker  recommended   a  more   consolidated                                                                   
approach, which might provide  a better management structure.                                                                   
He  asked consideration  of  the  discussion  whether or  not                                                                   
there could  be a more effective  manner in dealing  with the                                                                   
concerns  and  bring them  together  in a  more  consolidated                                                                   
3:28:21 PM                                                                                                                    
Co-Chair Meyer  noted that  SB 60 would  be held  for further                                                                   
SB 60 was HELD in Committee for further consideration.                                                                          

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