Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/15/2003 03:12 PM MLV

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 228-STATE EMPLOYEES CALLED TO MILITARY DUTY                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
[Contains discussion  relating to  SB 26,  the companion  bill in                                                               
the Senate, and to HJR 18]                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR LYNN  announced that the  final order of business  would be                                                               
HOUSE BILL NO.  228, "An Act relating to state  employees who are                                                               
called  to active  duty as  reserve or  auxiliary members  of the                                                               
armed  forces  of  the  United   States;  and  providing  for  an                                                               
effective date."                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Number 0334                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE BETH  KERTTULA, Alaska State  Legislature, sponsor                                                               
of HB 228, thanked Senator  Elton for the original legislation on                                                               
the Senate side  [SB 26, also sponsored by Senator  Taylor].  She                                                               
deferred to Tracy Wendt to present the legislation.                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Number 0284                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
TRACY  WENDT, Intern  for  Representative  Beth Kerttula,  Alaska                                                               
State  Legislature,  informed  members  that  HB  228  gives  the                                                               
governor the  authority to  instate pay  and benefits  for [state                                                               
employees who are] members of the  armed forces who are called to                                                               
active  duty or  who  are on  call.   The  intent  is to  provide                                                               
benefits  and any  difference between  [active-duty pay]  and the                                                               
full  salary  that the  employee  would  have received  from  the                                                               
state.   Thus the bill  ensures that families aren't  left having                                                               
to deal with  financial obligations for their loved  ones who are                                                               
away fighting in a  war.  She said one concern  with the bill was                                                               
the desire not to intentionally  eliminate any group.  Therefore,                                                               
the  desire is  to  have it  apply to  anyone  that the  governor                                                               
chooses  [to have  it apply  to]; however,  this is  optional and                                                               
isn't mandated.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
Number 0151                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  KERTTULA  brought  attention  to  Amendment  A.1,                                                               
labeled 23-LS0894\A.1, Craver, 4/14/03, which read:                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
     Page 1, line 1, following "duty":                                                                                        
          Insert "or ordered to full-time service"                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
     Page 1, lines 9 - 11:                                                                                                      
          Delete "including the organized militia of                                                                            
     Alaska, consisting  of the  Alaska National  Guard, the                                                                    
     Alaska  Naval Militia,  and  the  Alaska State  Defense                                                                    
     Force,"                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
     Page 1, line 11, following "duty":                                                                                         
          Insert "or ordered to full-time service"                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
MS. WENDT  explained that there  had been concern  about omitting                                                               
some groups  such as the U.S.  Coast Guard, but the  intent isn't                                                               
to  do that.    Therefore, Amendment  A.1  restates the  language                                                               
broadly  enough  that  the  bill  applies  to  any  armed  forces                                                               
[branch] or auxiliary of the armed forces.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Number 0076                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG [moved to adopt] Amendment A.1.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR   LYNN  indicated   Amendment  A.1   was  adopted   without                                                               
objection.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MS.  WENDT, in  response  to  a question  from  Chair Lynn,  said                                                               
people  would get  their state  pay or  less.   She said  this is                                                               
really more for benefits.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE MASEK  offered her  belief that  this will  have a                                                               
fiscal impact because of the way it is written.                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
TAPE 03-7, SIDE A                                                                                                             
Number 0001                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  KERTTULA  said  that  is right  if  the  governor                                                               
chooses to implement this.   That's why there is an indeterminate                                                               
fiscal note.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE MASEK said that is why  she has a problem with the                                                               
bill.   Saying  she appreciates  that state  employees volunteer,                                                               
she reiterated concern about a budgetary impact.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR LYNN agreed that it seems there will be a fiscal impact.                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  KERTTULA  explained  that people  who  volunteer,                                                               
when they  go to active  duty, may suddenly lose  their benefits,                                                               
as will  their families.   They definitely,  in many  cases, lose                                                               
pay as well.   She emphasized that these  people are volunteering                                                               
"for us."   She said, "We felt that we  should allow the governor                                                               
the authority to  go ahead and do  this if he felt like  it.  The                                                               
reason it's an indeterminate amount  is, as with many other bills                                                               
we're seeing this session, they  just don't know."  She mentioned                                                               
an estimate on  similar legislation last year of  $80,000 that it                                                               
would have cost the state.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR LYNN noted that everyone wouldn't be called to duty.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Number 0220                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  FATE  asked  what  would happen  with  regard  to                                                               
benefits if someone were killed while  on military duty.  He also                                                               
asked  what would  happen  if  the person  decided  to remain  on                                                               
military duty with  the regular state pay and  other benefits for                                                               
30 years.  He asked whether there is any remedy for this.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA  said she would  double check.   She then                                                               
remarked that if  a person weren't covered  under state benefits,                                                               
those easily could be lost.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  LYNN said  this is  a valid  point, but  suggested hearing                                                               
testimony  and  then holding  the  bill  over.   He  called  upon                                                               
Lieutenant  Commander  Honse, thanking  him  for  service to  his                                                               
country.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
Number 0439                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHRIS  HONSE, Lieutenant  Commander, Director,  U.S. Coast  Guard                                                               
Auxiliary for District  17, told members the U.S.  Coast Guard is                                                               
simultaneously an  armed service  of the  United States  under 10                                                               
U.S.C. 101 and  a law enforcement agency under 14  U.S.C. 89.  As                                                               
the lead  federal agency  for maritime  homeland security,  it is                                                               
responsible  for upholding  America's  maritime security  against                                                               
terroristic   threats,   with   the  imperative   of   preserving                                                               
fundamental liberties  and economic  well-being.  It  has active-                                                               
duty,  civilian,  reserve,  and  auxiliary  personnel.    As  its                                                               
missions  and  responsibilities  continue  to  expand  under  the                                                               
Department  of   Homeland  Security,  the  dependence   on  every                                                               
component   of    the   U.S.    Coast   Guard's    forces   grows                                                               
correspondingly.                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
LIEUTENANT  COMMANDER HONSE  noted  that the  Alaska Coast  Guard                                                               
reserve  component   includes  42   (indisc.)  reserves   and  28                                                               
"inactive ready reserves."   Of the 80 U.S.  Coast Guard reserves                                                               
serving currently  under "Title 10" orders  throughout Alaska, 38                                                               
reside permanently  in Alaska; of  those, 6 are  state employees.                                                               
He reported  that current reserve  members serve as  sea marshals                                                               
and provide protection.   He noted that the  statutory purpose of                                                               
the  U.S. Coast  Guard  Auxiliary was  expanded  under the  Coast                                                               
Guard authorization Act of 1996.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
LIEUTENANT  COMMANDER HONSE  said  currently there  are 403  U.S.                                                               
Coast Guard  Auxiliary members in  Alaska.  Although  they cannot                                                               
be called to  active duty, commonly they are  placed on "official                                                               
orders"  to   provide  support  in   executing  search-and-rescue                                                               
missions,  responding to  environmental pollution,  "backfilling"                                                               
active-duty  positions, and  conducting low-risk  harbor patrols.                                                               
As   volunteers,   they   receive   no   monetary   compensation.                                                               
Continuation of pay  and benefits would assist  these members, he                                                               
said,  since  it would  help  alleviate  financial concerns,  add                                                               
stability,  and   reduce  uncertainty  while  these   people  are                                                               
deployed away from their families.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
Number 0703                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE WEYHRAUCH asked how  many U.S. Coast Guard members                                                               
would be affected by this bill.                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
LIEUTENANT  COMMANDER   HONSE  said  6  for   the  reserves,  and                                                               
estimated 20 to 30 on the auxiliary side.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  WEYHRAUCH  noted  that  Section 3  says  this  is                                                               
retroactive to September  11, 2001, but that Section  4 also says                                                               
this Act  takes effect  immediately.  He  asked about  the former                                                               
and  suggested that  a retroactive  date to  September 11,  2001,                                                               
would  take care  of  some  of the  indeterminate  nature of  the                                                               
fiscal  impact,  since   the  impact  since  that   date  can  be                                                               
determined.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA said it's a  good point and could provide                                                               
at least a  range.  Referring to  Representative Fate's questions                                                               
and surmising that  the issue is whether someone  could abuse the                                                               
system and  double-dip, she  asked whether  there have  been such                                                               
instances.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
LIEUTENANT COMMANDER HONSE said he wasn't aware of any.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  LYNN  remarked  that  most  people  who  retire  from  the                                                               
military  after  20 years  cannot  live  on military  retirement,                                                               
whatever their rank, with a few exceptions "who wear stars."                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Number 0898                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
JULIE  BENSON testified  as the  wife  of a  man who  is a  state                                                               
trooper  and a  member  of  the Air  National  Guard.   She  told                                                               
members:                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
     This bill is important to  our family specifically.  My                                                                    
     husband has  been a trooper  for four years,  and we're                                                                    
     currently  stationed   in  Ketchikan.    We   have  one                                                                    
     daughter, with  another child due  in July.   After six                                                                    
     years  of  active  military service,  Adam  joined  the                                                                    
     Alaska Air  National Guard  as a  KC-135 crew  chief in                                                                    
     1997.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
     Last year,  after the tragic events  of September 11th,                                                                    
     Adam's  unit, the  168th Air  Refueling  Wing based  at                                                                    
     Eielson  Air  Force  Base, was  activated.    For  this                                                                    
     family, activation  means that Adam is  taken away from                                                                    
     us for  as long as  the United States  government needs                                                                    
     his  services.    Last  year, Adam  was  gone  for  six                                                                    
     months.  There is no way  for us to know when the Guard                                                                    
     will call again  or for how long Adam will  be gone the                                                                    
     next time.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
     I  would like  to help  you understand  that HB  228 is                                                                    
     essential legislation for state  employees who make the                                                                    
     difficult  choice to  serve not  only their  state, but                                                                    
     also  their country.   When  my  husband was  activated                                                                    
     last summer,  our benefits through his  employment as a                                                                    
     trooper were  immediately discontinued.   This resulted                                                                    
     in lost  retirement contributions  as well as  the loss                                                                    
     of certain  pay raises  he would  have received  had he                                                                    
     remained employed by  the state.  Adam and  I feel that                                                                    
     any  loss of  pay and  benefits due  to his  activation                                                                    
     just is not right.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
     The individuals who choose to  perform service to their                                                                    
     country  as well  as their  state are  exemplary public                                                                    
     servants  and should  not be  penalized  by the  state,                                                                    
     especially at  a time  of significant  national crisis.                                                                    
     These people  are federal  and state  servants because,                                                                    
     as you've noted,  they choose to be -  not because they                                                                    
     have to be.                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
     Just  last  Friday,  House   Joint  Resolution  18  was                                                                    
     transmitted to  the Office  of the  Governor, and  as I                                                                    
     understand it,  HJR 18  calls for  full support  of the                                                                    
     men  and women  who are  currently protecting  not only                                                                    
     our freedom, but the freedom  of citizens abroad.  This                                                                    
     resolution is  a wonderful show  of support.   However,                                                                    
     these  words  don't  mean  very   much  when  the  same                                                                    
     administration  denied   my  husband  his   annual  pay                                                                    
     increase  based  on the  grounds  that  he had,  quote,                                                                    
     "failed to  demonstrate a greater value  to the state",                                                                    
     end  quote.   He was  unable to  demonstrate a  greater                                                                    
     value to the state because  he had been deployed to the                                                                    
     Middle East in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Number 1088                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MS. BENSON continued:                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
     My husband  is a unique individual  who feels compelled                                                                    
     to  serve in  every  aspect of  his professional  life.                                                                    
     When he  left the Army,  there was never a  question of                                                                    
     whether or not he would  continue to serve his country.                                                                    
     He immediately joined an active  Air Guard unit that is                                                                    
     frequently deploying its members  worldwide.  Though we                                                                    
     understood  the potential  sacrifice of  this decision,                                                                    
     it  was never  up for  debate.   Civil service  is what                                                                    
     Adam is all about.   And despite the family compromises                                                                    
     that we  make, I'm  so thankful for  the men  and women                                                                    
     like my husband, and I'm very proud to be his wife.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
     The  passage of  this bill  is the  right thing  to do.                                                                    
     Under current state  policy, the men and  women who are                                                                    
     called to  service are punished by  their employer, the                                                                    
     State  of Alaska.   I  doubt that  the passage  of this                                                                    
     bill  will change  any of  their decisions  to continue                                                                    
     their voluntary military service.  It's just what they                                                                     
     do because it's the right thing for them to do.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
     The right  thing for  the rest  of us to  do is  to use                                                                    
     every  avenue available  to support  them  as they  and                                                                    
     their  families make  incredible sacrifices  to protect                                                                    
     and to  defend.  Please  support the men and  women who                                                                    
     choose to serve  our great nation and  our great state,                                                                    
     by supporting House Bill 228.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  LYNN noted  that  he'd sponsored  HJR 18.    He asked  Ms.                                                               
Benson to [thank her husband for his service].                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
Number 1248                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MS. BENSON,  in response to  questions from  Representative Fate,                                                               
said her husband only receives payment  for being in the Guard or                                                               
the reserves  when he  is there  working for them.   There  is no                                                               
supplement to  his state trooper  pay just because he  chooses to                                                               
be in the Guard.                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE FATE  asked whether Mr.  Benson was on  leave from                                                               
the troopers while serving with the Guard.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MS. BENSON said he was on military leave.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  FATE surmised  that  Mr. Benson  had one  salary,                                                               
either from the troopers or the Guard.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MS. BENSON affirmed that.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
Number 1330                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
DEBRA   GERRISH  began   by  addressing   a  question   posed  by                                                               
Representative Fate  earlier.   She said  the federal  law called                                                               
USERRA  [Uniformed Services  Employment  and Reemployment  Rights                                                               
Act  of 1994]  provides for  holding an  employee's job  for only                                                               
five years.   After that  five years is  up, the person's  job is                                                               
gone.   Noting that  she is the  wife of an  officer in  the Army                                                               
National Guard  who has served  for 22 years, Ms.  Gerrish agreed                                                               
with Ms. Benson's testimony that  these people serve because they                                                               
feel it is the right thing to do.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
MS. GERRISH told members she is  very interested in this bill and                                                               
has done a lot  of research on it.  She  noted that Tennessee has                                                               
done something  similar through Executive  Order 4.   Also noting                                                               
that she'd testified  on a similar bill last  session that didn't                                                               
pass,  she told  members she'd  looked at  what she  could remove                                                               
from the  bill, if necessary, in  order that it could  pass.  She                                                               
reported  that when  her husband  is deployed,  the family  loses                                                               
$15,000 to  live on, but can  survive [on the salary].   However,                                                               
she  must  have  the  health   benefits.    Her  family  has  two                                                               
asthmatics and cannot  afford to lose those  benefits.  Therefore                                                               
she asked that the health-benefits aspect be retained above all.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MS. GERRISH provided an example.   Her husband is deployed on the                                                               
26th of  a month, called  to active  duty.  The  [state] benefits                                                               
extend to the end of that  month.  Then, according to Alaska law,                                                               
he can  ask for  another month  of health  benefits.   After that                                                               
month is over, however, the family  has nothing.  She pointed out                                                               
that when  someone is called up  by the Army, the  person must be                                                               
called up for  a particular number of days  before dependents are                                                               
covered.   She said  there were people  called up  [following the                                                               
terrorist  attacks  of September  11,  2001]  whose kids  had  no                                                               
insurance for months.   She stressed the need to  look at how the                                                               
different laws work together.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MS.  GERRISH reported  that she'd  called  Tennessee, where  many                                                               
National Guard members who also  are state workers are covered by                                                               
[Tennessee's   executive   order   that  is   similar   to   this                                                               
legislation].   She  concluded by  saying  she can  scrape by  on                                                               
military  pay,   although  it  is  difficult   for  some  others.                                                               
However,  loss of  health benefits  is  hard on  everybody.   She                                                               
pointed  out that  people making  $15,000 or  less a  year cannot                                                               
afford COBRA  [Comprehensive Omnibus Budget Reform  Act] payments                                                               
for insurance.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
Number 1623                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
BUTCH  STEIN  began  by  referring  to  USERRA,  suggesting  that                                                               
everyone read  Title 38,  Chapter 43 [of  the United  States Code                                                               
(U.S.C.)].      He  suggested   that   would   address  some   of                                                               
Representative Fate's  questions, for  instance.  He  agreed with                                                               
Ms. Gerrish that the maximum [for  an employer to have to hold an                                                               
employee's job] is five years.  He then told members:                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
     The reason  I want to talk  to the group is  not on the                                                                    
     monetary side.   I'm just talking about  the parts that                                                                    
     USERRA addresses,  which is, one, that  you cannot deny                                                                    
     a person  employment because of  their activity  in the                                                                    
     uniformed services, and you  cannot discriminate ... or                                                                    
     take  any  actions  against them  ...  because  they're                                                                    
     members of the uniformed services.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
     You cannot charge  them vacation time.   Now, the State                                                                    
     of  Alaska  authorizes,  I believe,  it's  16  days  of                                                                    
     military leave  per year.   But if they  are activated,                                                                    
     some  employers would  like  to say  they  have to  use                                                                    
     their personal  vacation or leave  time while  they are                                                                    
     gone.  That is not  correct; that's against the federal                                                                    
     law.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
     All benefits available  at the time of call  up to duty                                                                    
     are   immediately  available   upon  return   to  work.                                                                    
     There's no  waiting period  involved.   You're entitled                                                                    
     to, day  one, when you get  back to work, ...  all your                                                                    
     benefits in return.                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
Number 1710                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR.  STEIN suggested  there may  be a  violation involved  in the                                                               
situation described  by Ms. Benson  with respect to  her husband,                                                               
suggesting  his anniversary  date  may have  been changed,  which                                                               
directly affects  benefits, retirement,  and so  forth.   He said                                                               
this  flies  in  the  face  of the  federal  law,  and  he  again                                                               
encouraged looking  at the  federal law.   He reiterated  that he                                                               
was  addressing not  the monetary  aspects,  but the  protections                                                               
that people  should have while  serving in the military  and upon                                                               
their return.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MR.  STEIN said  50 percent  of the  U.S. military  are Guard  or                                                               
reserve  members, and  shouldn't be  penalized for  participating                                                               
and  protecting  the rights  of  others.   Referring  to  earlier                                                               
discussion, he agreed this service  is voluntary, but pointed out                                                               
that a person  can be called to  active duty for as  long as five                                                               
years; although he recalled that it  was only two [years] for any                                                               
one campaign, he noted that  campaigns can change [rapidly], such                                                               
as  the  change  from  Afghanistan   to  Iraq.    He  said  these                                                               
volunteers love  their state and  country, and "represent  us 100                                                               
percent."  He  added, "To think of them in  any other light would                                                               
be a  real miscarriage of  justice as far  as how we  think about                                                               
these people.  These people are true patriots."                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
MR.  STEIN  offered that  HJR  18  seems  to really  support  the                                                               
troops,  and suggested  that is  the direction  to continue.   He                                                               
mentioned collective  bargaining and  labor agreements,  and said                                                               
all of them should  be brought in line with the  federal law.  He                                                               
again  emphasized  his  desire  that  people  in  the  Guard  and                                                               
reserves  not be  discriminated against,  either when  going into                                                               
active duty or when returning from that service.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Number 1864                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR. STEIN  closed by referring  to an article he'd  read recently                                                               
that said if a military person  expires while on duty, the spouse                                                               
receives  $90 a  month until  remarriage, the  children get  $250                                                               
[apiece]  a month  until  age  18, and  there  is a  lump-payment                                                               
settlement of about $8,000.   He suggested that isn't much money.                                                               
He  pointed out  that the  people who  suffered on  September 11,                                                               
2001,  averaged about  $1.2 million  as  a settlement.   He  said                                                               
there is something askew here,  and questioned the ability to put                                                               
a monetary value on a patriot's service.                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
Number 1913                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  LYNN thanked  participants and  asked whether  anyone else                                                               
wished to testify;  he then closed public testimony.   Chair Lynn                                                               
announced that HB 288 would be held over.                                                                                       

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