Legislature(2005 - 2006)HOUSE FINANCE 519
03/02/2005 01:30 PM FINANCE
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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 matter. nd 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 th 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 approach. 3:28:21 PM Co-Chair Meyer noted that SB 60 would be held for further deliberation. SB 60 was HELD in Committee for further consideration.