Legislature(2013 - 2014)HOUSE FINANCE 519
02/18/2014 01:30 PM FINANCE
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HOUSE BILL NO. 211 "An Act relating to the education and employment of individuals with disabilities." 2:17:20 PM Representative Costello moved the House Labor and Commerce Committee bill version before the committee. VASILIOS GIALOPSOS, STAFF, REPRESENTATIVE CHARISSE MILLET, relayed that the bill would make Alaska an Employment First state. He explained that goal for departmental and agency levels dealing with disabled individuals would be to work towards a primary objective of gainful employment. He detailed that more than 25 other states had adopted similar legislation recognizing the problem of expanding Medicaid and healthcare costs and the underrepresentation of disabled individuals in the workforce who were without the appropriate tools. Additionally, the bill addressed whether the desired outcome was currently met with the funds spent on individuals with disabilities. Mr. Gialopsos communicated that the bill would implement an external body that would collect silos of data to be vested in the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority. The data would work towards determining whether departments and agencies were currently producing the preferred outcomes; whether individuals receiving benefits were getting the requisite training, and whether benefits were enabling recipients to reach the desired outcome. Additionally, the bill language worked to prevent individuals with a disability from feeling that their disability kept them from being a gainful member of society. Gainful employment enriched individuals' lives, enabled them to increase their net worth, and reduced healthcare costs. He stated that individuals statistically led healthier lives, were psychologically much happier, and that the broader society benefitted from the contributions as well. Mr. Gialopsos provided a sectional analysis of the bill (copy on file). Sections 1 through 5 required departments working with disabled individuals to ensure the primary objective of gainful employment. Sections 1 and 2 dealt with the Department of Education and Early Development; Sections 3 and 4 dealt with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DLWD), Division of Vocational Rehabilitation; and Section 5 dealt with the Department of Health and Social Services. He discussed an oversight in Section 2; the section dealt with a requirement related to transition services. He detailed that transition services pertained to children with disabilities over the age of 15 who had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The original bill language aimed to ensure that as part of the transition services that school districts make it a primary objective to help the students become gainfully employed. The language had inadvertently precluded the potential for any postsecondary education. He believed a change should be made to fix the error. 2:22:55 PM RICHARD SANDERS, PROGRAM COORDINATOR, GOVERNOR'S COUNCIL ON DISABILITIES AND SPECIAL EDUCATION (via teleconference), was available for questions. He relayed that the bill was a priority of the council's. He shared that he worked on employment programs including the Alaska Integrated Employment Initiative. He had previously worked on the Disability Employment Initiative with DLWD over the past three years. He agreed that the initiative was seeking employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities. Co-Chair Stoltze remarked that Representative Millet had read song lyrics by Rich Sanders' father on the House floor during an earthquake resolution. He explained that Don Sanders was a former educator, gold miner, and musician. He asked Mr. Sanders if his parents were from Seward, Alaska. Mr. Sanders replied in the affirmative. 2:26:12 PM CATHERINE BABUSCIO, MAT-SU REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, PALMER (via teleconference), testified in support of the bill. She spoke to a program called Project Search, which was a collaboration with the Mat-Su Borough School District, the Governor's Council on Disabilities, and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. She detailed that the business- led vocational program was for adult students aged 18 to 22 who experience disabilities. The ultimate program goal was securing employment within the community. Students experienced full emersion at the hospital worksites and had three 10-week rotations; students were then placed based on their skills and experience. There had been three successful program completions since 2011; all students who completed the program had achieved employment. The average wage of those employed was greater than $13 per hour. She communicated that the medical center had employed 20 percent of the program's participants; the individuals apply competitively and were currently successful members of the workforce. She elaborated that the program had greatly benefitted the organization by measurable increased employee satisfaction and dedicated skilled workers. Co-Chair Stoltze commented on the great employees at the medical center. He was impressed by the employees' strong work ethic and the pride they took in their jobs. He had been pleased to see the medical center featured in an educational and promotional video. 2:29:35 PM ART DELAUNE, GOVERNOR'S COUNCIL ON DISABILITIES AND SPECIAL EDUCATION, FAIRBANKS (via teleconference), spoke in support of the bill. He shared that his son had Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and other mental health issues. He discussed his son's personal story related to high school and graduation. He detailed that his son had worked with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to find a career path, but he had not been satisfied with the job options that had been suggested. Subsequently, his son had become involved with Project Discovery where a division counselor and employment specialist worked to determine a person's skills, desires, and how they would fit into the community. His son had voiced interest in working as a meat cutter; the program had enabled him to work as an apprentice meat cutter at the local Fred Meyer. His son was integrated in a workplace with people without disabilities and was making the same wage as others at his skill level. He shared that his son's self-esteem had grown tremendously. His son was currently receiving state Medicaid benefits; he was hoping to get on his own insurance in the future. He pointed to his son's experience as proof of success and spoke in strong support of the legislation. 2:33:44 PM MILLIE RYAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, REACH, INC., testified in support of the legislation. Research tells us that vocational rehabilitation funded supported employment services for individuals with severe disabilities is cost-effective regardless of the type or severity of disability. In 2009, Dr. Robert Cimera from Kent State University determined the average benefit cost-ratio across 17 states was 1.46. He also found that when supported employment agencies like REACH had financial incentives to reduce paid job coach support and use the natural supports of the business supervisor and coworkers that their average cost decreased by 57.6 percent. Data across 42 states including Alaska, that establish Medicaid buy- in programs currently shows that buy-in enrollees earn more money, work more hours, contribute more in taxes, and rely less on Medicaid than people with disabilities on regular Medicaid. Mathematica policy research prepared an expenditure report on buy-in enrollees in 2005 and 2006. In Alaska average annual Medicaid expenditures for buy-in enrollees was $15,288 compared to $23,865 for individuals who were not enrolled in the buy-in, which represents a significant decrease in expenditures. In summary, House Bill 211 not only makes sense for Alaskans with disabilities, it also makes sense for the State of Alaska. 2:36:30 PM Co-Chair Austerman CLOSED public testimony. 2:36:57 PM AT EASE 2:37:40 PM RECONVENED Co-Chair Austerman MOVED to ADOPT corrected Amendment 1 (offered by Co-Chair Stoltze by request): Page 1, Line 15 Following "disabilities" remove "." Following "disabilities" insert ", or become enrolled in post-secondary education." Representative Holmes OBJECTED for discussion. Mr. Gialopsos relayed that the proposed amendment would modify Section 2, page 1, line 15 by adding that for transition services, a school district's primary objective and preferred outcome is not just to help a student become gainfully employed in an integrated workplace alongside individuals without disabilities, but also to become enrolled in postsecondary education if the individual so desired. He explained that if an individual with an IEP was able to enroll in a postsecondary course of any kind, transition services should not dissuade them from furthering their educational opportunities. Representative Holmes WITHDREW her OBJECTION. There being NO further OBJECTION, corrected Amendment 1 was ADOPTED. Representative Gara pointed to the absence of a fiscal impact note and wondered if the department was currently providing similar services offered under the legislation. 2:40:15 PM LES MORSE, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND EARLY DEVELOPMENT, answered that the bill used data that was currently collected by the department and did not create an additional burden for the department's workload. He relayed that the only extra effort involved the transfer of data the department currently collected to another agency. Representative Gara asked about potential costs associated with teaching people with disabilities skills to work alongside people without disabilities. He wondered if the training was currently taking place. Mr. Morse answered that under current law students in the age range (age 15 or 16 and up) were required to have a transition plan for employment or postsecondary education. He believed with the collection of the data there may be more effort put into the work. He noted that significant work was currently put into IEPs. Representative Costello addressed the four zero fiscal notes including three previously published notes from the Department of Administration, the Department of Health and Social Services, and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, and one new note from the Department of Education and Early Development. Representative Costello MOVED to REPORT CSHB 211(FIN) out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes. There being NO OBJECTION CSHB 211(FIN) was REPORTED out of committee with a "do pass" recommendation and with one new zero fiscal note from the Department of Education and Early Development and three previously published zero fiscal notes: FN1 (ADM); FN2 (DHS); FN3 (LWF). Co-Chair Austerman discussed the schedule for the following day.