Legislature(2013 - 2014)BARNES 124
02/10/2014 03:15 PM LABOR & COMMERCE
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
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HB 211-EMPLOYMENT OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES 4:16:18 PM CHAIR OLSON announced that the final order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 211, "An Act relating to the education and employment of individuals with disabilities." 4:16:23 PM VASILIOS GIALOPSOS, Staff, Representative Charisse Millett, Alaska State Legislature, stated that HB 211 will make Alaska an employment-first state, which is a national movement for all agencies in the state to work towards gainful, integrated employment for persons with disabilities. This policy would include education policy and how the persons are provided service. This means those who have disabilities but are gainfully employed live healthier lives, have a higher quality of life, and incur lower health care costs. MR. GIALOPSOS provided a section-by-section analysis of HB 211. He said that proposed Section 1 would require the Department of Education and Early Development (EED) to report to the Mental Health Trust Authority with respect to the data collection on the transition of services. Under Section 2, the bill would also add an education plan to include a goal for children 15 years of age and older to become gainfully employed. He added that this doesn't preclude post-secondary education. 4:18:29 PM MR. GIALOPSOS stated that Sections 3-5 have the same aspirational language imbedded in the requisite titles for the DLWD, the Department of Health and Social Services (HSS) and the Department of Administration. The fiscal notes show that this is existing policy so the fiscal impact is absorbed by the department and these departments have zero fiscal notes. 4:19:59 PM REPRESENTATIVE CHENAULT referred to page 2, line 2, and offered Conceptual Amendment 1, which would add after "time", "within one year of leaving high school" and delete [the remainder of subsection (c), after "time" which read, in part: ... for compensation that is (1) at or above the minimum wage; and (2) not less than the compensation paid by the employer for the same or similar work performed by an individual who is not disabled. REPRESENTATIVE CHENAULT said that Mr. Gialopsos can explain what this change would accomplish. MR. GIALOPSOS explained the reason for Conceptual Amendment 1 is to conform to the legislative intent to take the same data collection requirements that the EED is required to perform with respect to special education with no impact to the department. 4:21:40 PM REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPHSON asked whether the legislature would no longer set a mandate for minimum wages. MR. GIALOPSOS answered no; that the definitions would apply to the goals for persons with disabilities in other titles. He explained that Conceptual Amendment 1 pertains to data collection for transitional services. The goals will still be present, but the way the language was imbedded in the bill it required data collection the department does not currently perform, although this data is collected by the DLWD. Thus, Conceptual Amendment 1 would eliminate the redundancy and focus on the transition services of those 15 years of age and older. There being no objection, Conceptual Amendment 1 was adopted. 4:22:49 PM RON PAUL, Disabilities Employment Specialist, Frontier Community Services (FCS), explained that FCS is a non-profit organization that provides services for people of all ages and has served 190 persons with a disability under its behavioral health support employment program. Currently, 26 of its 38 enrolled clients are gainfully employed for a 68 percent employment rate. He reported that FCS's clients from referrals through Serenity House, the adult probation office, ALELA, the Peninsula Community Health Center, and vocational rehabilitation office have serious disabilities. He offered his belief that without the program, these individuals would likely not be employed. 4:24:17 PM MR. PAUL provided specific examples of persons with disabilities that the FCS has assisted, including assisting an incarcerated person who is now working on the North Slope, a homeless woman now working in retail, and an obese man who has been able to sufficiently deal with issues allow him to attend community college and live in his own apartment. He illustrated the value of FCS, given that disabled people who come to the program basically "have nowhere to go" but are assisted by the program and become gainfully employed. MR. PAUL said he was unsure how those individuals who are seriously disabled and confined to wheelchairs will obtain help. He offered his belief that no matter what disability people have, they deserve the opportunity to secure meaningful and gainful employment and receive the same assistance and respect as those not disabled. 4:28:20 PM CATHY BABUSCIO, Director of Human Resources, Mat-Su Regional Medical Center (MSRMC), said MSRMC's project search program is a unique "business led" vocational rehabilitation program for adult students 18-22 years of age who experience disabilities. This program provides students who want to work an opportunity to develop transferable job skills. The ultimate program goal is independent adults securing employment within their communities. She explained that students experience full immersion at the hospital, and individualized jobs, development, and placement occurs based on student strength and skills. The project search program is a collaborative effort between the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, the Governor's Council on Disabilities and Special Education, and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. The MSRMC has had three successful program completions with 100 percent employment of their students. She pointed out the average wage is greater than $13 per hour. Additionally, 20 percent of those completing the program have been awarded positions at the MSRMC. She stated that this program has increased employee satisfaction and has benefitted the hospital with dedicated and skilled workers. She said that the MSRMC supports employment first. 4:30:03 PM RIC NELSON, Member, Governor's Council on Disabilities & Special Education, testified through an interpreter, as follows: Good evening, Mr. Chair. I have my Bachelor's [degree] in business administration. I've always been told I'll never be able to work or even able to give back to society. You know, I've worked a couple part- time jobs and every time I've worked, people have enjoyed working with me. I bring a different take on life on how people work with disabilities. And within a year or two after I graduate with my Masters [degree], I want to start my own business. I want to open an agency that serves people with disabilities. I want to give back for what I have gotten through with my life. I want to make sure that people can work in their own community doing whatever they want. I urge to please pass HB 211. 4:35:13 PM ERIC YANUSZ provided his testimony, as follows: I am Eric Yanusz and I'm currently working at REACH, where Cathy works, too. [In] my first rotation the day surgery is sanitized, dusted: take out trash, repair the chemicals, [and] clean the lobby area. Second rotation, food service: fill required buckets, wipe tables, wrap silverware, [and] refill napkins. Indisc. I don't know my third rotation. 4:36:01 PM LUANN YANUSZ stated that she is the parent of a 21-year-old son, [the previous testifier], with disabilities. She explained that parents of children with disabilities do not know what to expect, how much they will be able to learn or do, or contribute. She said her son hasn't received a high school diploma so he is in a lower range than many in society. In his current program, "Project Search" and other job training programs, he has learned what employers expect of him, such as to be at work every day, develop a good work ethic, show initiative, and follow the rules. She said he is hoping through the transition from Project Search to get at least a half-time job and continue his work routine. She said he will be out of the school district this May and he is very "routine oriented." She hoped the transitional services will provide assistance so his routine from working at school to working in the community can continue instead of him watching television. If he is watching television, he will know the television schedule. Under the program, he is gainfully employed in the community, learns how to take the bus and get to his job, what the employer expects, and would earn appropriate wages. In conclusion, she said, she supports the employment first bill. 4:38:41 PM MILLIE RYAN, Executive Director, REACH, Inc., stated that REACH serves about 400 individuals, primarily with intellectual and developmental disabilities in northern Southeast Alaska. One service REACH provides is employment, and it is currently implementing employment-first policies across the agency. For example, when people are developing their service plans, the first thing REACH asks about is employment. REACH has collected baseline information on the percent of youth and adults who have employment goals in their service plans. She indicated that REACH's board of directors will be setting targets over the next five years. She stated that providers can do a lot to support people and help them get employment but the state must provide strong policies that promote employment as the preferred outcome for individuals with developmental disabilities. She emphasized that HB 211 will really make that happen. She thanked members for the opportunity to support of HB 211. 4:40:08 PM CHAIR OLSON, after first determining no one else wished to testify, closed public testimony on HB 211. 4:40:23 PM REPRESENTATIVE MILLETT remarked that she was appointed last year to serve on the Governor's Council on Disabilities & Special Education (GCDSE). She said it has been an honor to work with the GCDSE, including those present today. She said the GCDSE's priority legislation is HB 211 and HB 212. She said the legislature is working on healthy communities and the legislature's priorities are to make sure that businesses grow and help individuals become independent. She said that a job does wonders for people, in terms of depression, suicide, self- worth, caring for self, developing a social life, and meeting people, and being an active part of the community is something everyone in Alaska deserves. This bill would help us recognize individuals for their special qualities. She said, "The sky is the limit. As they grow and learn skills, the limitations they overcome are phenomenal." She has observed Ric Nelson graduate from college. She is thrilled he is working towards his Master's Degree. She said he is an inspirational person and it is meaningful to speak with him to learn about his life. She said that Teresa Holt has been an excellent executive director for the council. She said she has probably learned more from serving on this council from the human perspective and it was an honor to carry the bill. The bill is truly a work in collaboration with a lot of people who care. She characterized the council as being a dedicated group. REPRESENTATIVE MILLETT moved to report HB 211, as amended, out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes. 4:44:26 PM There being no objection, the CSHB 211(L&C) was reported from the House Labor and Commerce Standing Committee.