Legislature(1995 - 1996)
02/08/1995 01:05 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HJUD - 02/08/95 HB 120 - INDEMNIFICATION OF PUBLIC EMPLOYEES Number 075 CHAIRMAN PORTER, sponsor of HB 120, introduced the bill. It passed the House last year, passed three committees in the Senate, and died in Rules. This bill provides to the rest of the public employees in this state, privileges that are already given to most public employees, either by law or by employee union agreement. It basically allows public employees, not otherwise covered, to be indemnified from damages accrued because of an act or omission occurring as a direct result of their employment. As indicated, in balancing the position, it will allow employees to be indemnified for negligent acts, but not for reckless or intentional acts. These protections are now provided to most of the represented employees of the state and of many municipalities. They are provided by statute to employees of the University of Alaska and all municipal school districts. Number 140 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY asked if all state employees and all University of Alaska employees are currently indemnified. CHAIRMAN PORTER said all state employees are not indemnified. There will be testimony on how that breaks out. One of the problems is for mid-management, which is often the category that is not covered, because they do not belong to a union nor are they covered by law. They get themselves named in a suit just because they are in the line of responsibility within an organizational chart, and then it stays with the person for years. Chairman Porter said he just got his name off of a lawsuit that he had been on for years; and he retired in 1987. The adverse affect of that is, you can try to get a mortgage on your house, and find you are a bad risk, because you are named in a suit that has a request for $5,000,000 in punitive damages. Number 200 SCOTT BRANDT-ERICHSEN, MUNICIPAL ATTORNEY OF ANCHORAGE, said Anchorage is working on a special legislative program, and while some preferred program is included, it has not been formally approved. The public employer is immune from liability but the employee is liable, if the facts in the case support it. Because of the way it clearly spells out the responsibilities and obligations of the employer and the employee, it prevents conflict between the employer and employee when it comes to lawsuits against public employees in the scope of their duties. Number 260 DUANE UDLAND, DEPUTY CHIEF OF THE ANCHORAGE POLICE DEPARTMENT said for several years, they have tried to get this through the legislature. We are not asking for immunity for our employees, but for protection while doing the work of government, without the fear of someone taking our houses, boats, or cars because of a suit filed against us. He said they are trying to make good faith decisions and there is a tremendous amount of fear out there, when individuals can be held accountable for actions that they take because of their employer. He hoped the bill would pass. Number 310 REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE wanted to clarify that this does not indemnify against gross negligence. Number 318 CHAIRMAN PORTER said it specifically excludes that coverage. Number 320 GAIL VOIGTLANDER, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF LAW, ANCHORAGE outlined the legal concept in the bill, as it is currently drafted. Indemnification is defined in the bill as settlements and judgments including the attorney fees and costs entered against the employee; so when we are talking about indemnification, that is the cause that is being dealt with. This bill covers acts and omissions that occur during the course and within the scope of the employee's employment with the public employer. There are several exceptions or clarifications within the bill that delineate where it is intended that there be defense or indemnification of the public employee. The public employee is not obligated to defend or indemnify if the act or omission was a result of gross negligence or misconduct. Another point not covered by the bill is disciplinary or criminal matters brought against the employee. Number 420 MR. CORKILL echoed the testimony given by Duane Udland. Government should be held accountable for its actions. If someone is harmed through a government employee, the employee should be able to make a claim as appropriate. However, public employees should be defended and protected, and the bill sets it out very clearly. On page 2, line 2, where it talks about the acts or omissions which are a result of gross negligence, the public employer would not have the responsibility to protect the one who committed the act. Having been a person who has been subject to lawsuit as a law officer, it is very disconcerting to have your name attached to something like that. Not only can the person pursuing the lawsuit get your personal property, this adversely affects the performance of the law officer. When a law officer has to react very quickly to any emergency at hand, it sometimes causes a hesitancy, because the officer pauses to think about what is or is not allowed. He felt the indemnification bill would help protect this person from these sorts of fears. Number 480 KEVIN RITCHIE, DIRECTOR, ALASKA MUNICIPAL LEAGUE (AML), said they supported the bill last year and this year. As a former city manager he has been on both sides, as an employee and an employer. He felt the language was comprehensive and easy to understand and also balanced, in how it protects the employee, the employer, and the public in a lot of cases. He stated AML supports passage of the bill. Number 545 BRAD THOMPSON, DIRECTOR, DIVISION OF RISK MANAGEMENT, DEPARTMENT OF ADMINISTRATION, testified in favor of the bill. He stated this bill codifies the existing practice the state provides to its employees. The majority of employees are provided this under collective bargaining agreements, defense, commitments, or contractual statements; but not in as clear a form as is presented in this bill. He thought this document had been massaged a lot over the last two years. It is a complex subject, yet it does show to both the employer and the employee, the conditions required and provisions provided. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY wondered if members of the boards and commissions were covered. MR. THOMPSON said the definition of "employee" in this bill would extend to members of boards and commissions established by the employer. REPRESENTATIVE GREEN made the motion to move HB 120 with individual recommendations and attached fiscal notes. Hearing no objection, HB 120 moved out of committee.