Legislature(2013 - 2014)CAPITOL 120

04/10/2014 01:00 PM MILITARY & VETERANS' AFFAIRS


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01:13:19 PM Start
01:13:37 PM SJR24
02:27:00 PM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
+= SJR 24 VETERANS HEALTH ADMINISTRATION POLICIES TELECONFERENCED
Moved HCS CSSJR 24(MLV) Out of Committee
         SJR 24-VETERANS HEALTH ADMINISTRATION POLICIES                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
1:13:37 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR LEDOUX announced  that the only order  of business would                                                               
be  CS  FOR SENATE  JOINT  RESOLUTION  NO. 24(STA),  Relating  to                                                               
certain   holiday   practices    at   federal   Veterans   Health                                                               
Administration facilities.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
1:14:20 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  HIGGINS   moved  to  adopt  the   proposed  House                                                               
committee  substitute  (HCS)  for   CSSJR  24(STA),  labeled  28-                                                               
LS1412\N, Bannister, 4/10/14, as the working draft.                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
1:14:34 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR LEDOUX objected for the purpose of discussion.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
1:14:50 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
PAUL  LABOLLE, Staff,  Representative Neal  Foster, Alaska  State                                                               
Legislature,  informed the  committee  the conceptual  amendments                                                               
discussed at  the previous  hearing on  4/8/14, and  an amendment                                                               
offered  by Representative  Higgins have  been incorporated  into                                                               
the  HCS  for  CSSJR  24(STA),  labeled  28-LS1412\N,  Bannister,                                                               
4/10/14, as follows:                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
     Page 2, line 9 adding:                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
          WHEREAS the officials at the Veterans Health                                                                        
          Administration facilities described in this                                                                           
          resolution ignored the policies established by                                                                        
          the United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs                                                                       
          regarding holiday practices at the facilities                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
     Page 2, line 21 changing existing language to:                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
          BE IT RESOLVED that the Alaska State Legislature                                                                    
          condemns the actions of the Veterans Health                                                                           
          Administration    officials     that    prohibited                                                                    
          religious holiday messages and gifts from being                                                                       
          conveyed   to   veterans    at   Veterans   Health                                                                    
          Administration    facilities   and    respectfully                                                                    
          requests that the United States Secretary of                                                                          
          Veterans Affairs ensure that the violations of                                                                        
          veterans' rights described in this resolution do                                                                      
          not occur again                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
     Page 2, line 26 adding:                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                              
          FURTHER   RESOLVED    that   the    Alaska   State                                                                  
          Legislature finds it unconscionable that the                                                                          
          established policies of the United States                                                                             
          Secretary   of   Veterans   Affairs   on   holiday                                                                    
          practices at Veterans Health Administration                                                                           
          facilities are being ignored and respectfully                                                                         
          requests that the United States Secretary of                                                                          
          Veterans Affairs follow the established policies                                                                      
          on   holiday   practices    at   Veterans   Health                                                                    
          Administration facilities and train personnel on                                                                      
          those policies so that the violations of                                                                              
          veterans' rights described in this resolution do                                                                      
          not occur again                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
     Page 3, line 2 conforming:                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                              
          FURTHER   RESOLVED    that   the    Alaska   State                                                                  
          Legislature   respectfully   requests   that   the                                                                    
          United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs                                                                           
          provide each member of the Alaska State                                                                               
          Legislature with a written assurance that the                                                                         
          actions of the Veterans Health Administration                                                                         
          officials described in this resolution do not                                                                         
          reflect the policies on holiday practices at                                                                          
          Veterans Health Administration facilities                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
1:18:41 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  asked whether changes were  made to the                                                               
existing WHEREAS.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
MR.  LABOLLE said  no.   An  additional change  was  made to  the                                                               
COPIES section as follows:                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
     Page 3, line 12 adding:                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
          the Honorable Bernie Sanders, Chair, U.S. Senate                                                                      
          Committee on Veterans' Affairs; the Honorable                                                                         
          Richard Burr, Ranking Member, U.S. Senate                                                                             
          Committee on Veterans' Affairs;                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE SADDLER  surmised the  resolution was  in response                                                               
to a situation  in Texas, and asked whether  any other violations                                                               
at Veterans Health Administration facilities were known.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
1:20:49 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
ERIC  HOLLEN,  Staff,  Senator   Charlie  Huggins,  Alaska  State                                                               
Legislature,   responded  that   instances  occurred   in  Texas,                                                               
Georgia,  Alabama,  and  Iowa  over  the  holiday.    In  further                                                               
response to  Representative Saddler, he  said there have  been no                                                               
instances in Alaska.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG  directed  attention  to  the  Veterans                                                               
Health  Administration  (VHA),  Department  of  Veterans  Affairs                                                               
(VA),  VHA   Handbook  1111.02,   Spiritual  and   Pastoral  Care                                                               
Procedures,  found  in  the  committee   packet.    On  page  19,                                                               
paragraph 26. RELIGIOUS LITERATURE read in part:                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
     Religious literature may be purchased to benefit the                                                                       
     spiritual health of patients.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
     a.  Various  religious denominations  offer  literature                                                                    
     free  of charge.   The  chaplains  are responsible  for                                                                    
     reviewing   all   donated    or   purchased   religious                                                                    
     literature    and     determining    its    appropriate                                                                    
     distribution.                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
     b.  Upon a  patient's request,  a chaplain  may provide                                                                    
     literature  that describes  a  particular religious  or                                                                    
     denominational viewpoint.                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
     c. Material must not be  distributed that may interfere                                                                    
     with patient care.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG opined  the  distribution  of cards  is                                                               
governed by  the chaplain  at the facility  as directed  above in                                                               
subparagraph  a.   He  pointed  out that  the  policy leaves  the                                                               
question of  distribution to the  chaplain, but does  not provide                                                               
much guidance  for the  chaplain, who  may believe  he or  she is                                                               
following the policy.   Representative Gruenberg said  he had not                                                               
seen  the  federal  consent  decree that  was  discussed  at  the                                                               
hearing on 4/8/14, or the policy that governs Christmas carols.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
1:25:37 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MR. LABOLLE remarked:                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
     The  consent decree  is not  on  this particular  case.                                                                    
     That  was  on  the  case  referenced  in  the  previous                                                                    
     article we  had looked  at in  the committee  where ...                                                                    
     the American  Legion commander who has  stated that the                                                                    
     VA was  already under a  consent decree.   That consent                                                                    
     decree  was  under  a  different   case  which  was  on                                                                    
     caroling,  and  not  directly   related  to  this,  but                                                                    
     tangentially related to this.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG  observed  that  part  of  the  concern                                                               
addressed by the  resolution is that singers were  not allowed to                                                               
sing carols, so that might be governed by the consent decree.                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MR. HOLLEN clarified  that the issue at the  Augusta, Georgia, VA                                                               
facility was  that the high  school carolers were not  allowed to                                                               
perform the songs they had rehearsed.                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR LEDOUX directed  attention back to the  VHA Handbook and                                                               
suggested that the  committee reexamine the policy  of having the                                                               
chaplain  review all  religious  literature, which  she said  she                                                               
found  offensive.   The  VA  policy  may  be  an issue  of  prior                                                               
restraint  [prohibited  by  the   First  Amendment  to  the  U.S.                                                               
Constitution] on the freedom of speech.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MR. LABOLLE  directed attention  to the  response letter  from VA                                                               
[North  Texas Health  Care System]  dated 12/27/13  found in  the                                                               
committee packet.  He read from paragraph [3] as follows:                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
     As  a  practical  matter, Chaplaincy  Service  fulfills                                                                    
     that duty  by reviewing  holiday cards  and determining                                                                    
     if  the cards  contain religious  material within  them                                                                    
     and  in the  event  they do,  our Chaplains  distribute                                                                    
     them by asking patients on  an individual basis if they                                                                    
     will accept a holiday card with religious references.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
1:29:26 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR LEDOUX  maintained her belief  that prior  restraint may                                                               
still apply.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE HUGHES  pointed out  the response on  12/27/13 was                                                               
not written  on behalf of  the Secretary of Veterans  Affairs and                                                               
did not "lay  out the policy."   She agreed that the  policy is a                                                               
problem and  needs to  be readdressed,  and offered  a conceptual                                                               
amendment  that  the  original   RESOLVE  in  the  resolution  is                                                             
reinserted   and   reflected   in    the   RESOLVE   offered   by                                                             
Representative Higgins.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
1:31:01 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
The committee took a brief at-ease.                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG cautioned that  very short and seemingly                                                               
innocuous legislation  can create very significant  problems.  In                                                               
this case,  one must consider  the rights  of those who  send the                                                               
message, the rights of the  sender to have message delivered, and                                                               
to a  less significant  degree, the right  of the  institution to                                                               
provide patient care.   He pointed out that mail  is delivered by                                                               
the   postal  service   without  interference.     Representative                                                               
Gruenberg  stated,  "...  and  to have  the  institution  or  the                                                               
Chaplain say 'Do you want to  receive this ...?' that's a serious                                                               
potential infringement on the sender's right ...."                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR LEDOUX restated her  support for Representative Hughes's                                                               
conceptual  amendment because  there are  problems not  just with                                                               
the interpretation of the policy, but with the policy.                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE SADDLER said whether  letters were addressed to an                                                               
individual resident, or  to the administrators at  a VA facility,                                                               
would have a bearing on their delivery.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
1:34:44 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE HUGHES  moved to  adopt Conceptual  Amendment [1],                                                               
to reinsert in the resolution the original RESOLVE which read:                                                                
                                                                                                                                
     BE  IT  RESOLVED  that  the  Alaska  State  Legislature                                                                  
     respectfully requests that  the United States Secretary                                                                    
     of Veterans Affairs reconsider  the policies on holiday                                                                    
     practices at Veterans  Health Administration facilities                                                                    
     and  rewrite those  policies so  that the  violation of                                                                    
     veterans' rights  described in  this resolution  do not                                                                    
     occur again; and be it                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE HUGHES said the above  RESOLVE is to be reinserted                                                             
in  Version N,  beginning at  page 2,  line 26.   The  conceptual                                                               
amendment  would  also  provide   conforming  language  with  the                                                               
proposed HCS.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
1:36:05 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR LEDOUX withdrew her objection to the proposed House CS.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
1:36:35 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
The committee took a brief at-ease.                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
1:40:42 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE HIGGINS  objected for  the purpose  of discussion.                                                               
He  referred to  the  original question  of  whether the  problem                                                               
addressed  by  the resolution  is  with  VA  policy or  with  the                                                               
interpretation of  the policy.   Returning  attention to  the VHA                                                               
Handbook for  Spiritual and Pastoral Care  Procedures, he pointed                                                               
out that paragraph 26. RELIGIOUS  LITERATURE applies to religious                                                               
literature that may be purchased  to benefit the spiritual health                                                               
of patients.   The incident in Texas centered  on literature that                                                               
was given,  not purchased, and  he opined that paragraph  26 does                                                               
not apply.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG advised  that the  policy is  not well-                                                               
drafted.    The  first  statement is  a  general  statement  that                                                               
religious literature  may be purchased.   The  question remaining                                                               
is whether a  religious denomination can offer  the literature to                                                               
patients free of  charge, and that is what  the Chaplain decides.                                                               
Although it is  not entirely clear, he expressed  his belief that                                                               
the  resolution is  governed by  subparagraph a.   Representative                                                               
Gruenberg  explained   that  after  a  federal   law  is  passed,                                                               
regulations, policies, and procedures  are written in addition to                                                               
the  statute.   He stated  that the  policy in  the handbook  may                                                               
violate a  statute or a  regulation, but  that is unknown  to the                                                               
committee.  In response to  Co-Chair LeDoux, he agreed that there                                                               
could also be a violation of the U. S. Constitution.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
1:44:01 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  HIGGINS removed  his objection.   There  being no                                                               
further objection, Version N was before the committee.                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
1:44:29 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  HUGHES restated  her motion  to adopt  Conceptual                                                               
Amendment 1.  Without further objection, it was so ordered.                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
1:47:14 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  HUGHES moved  to  adopt  Conceptual Amendment  2,                                                               
that on  page 2, line  26 delete  the language between  the words                                                               
"Legislature" and "and" on line 28.                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR LEDOUX suggested the following change:                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
Page 2, line 26                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
     Delete all material and insert:                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
       FURTHER RESOLVED that the Alaska State Legislature                                                                     
     finds the violations of veterans' rights described in                                                                      
     this resolution are unconscionable                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE HUGHES offered the following change:                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Page 2, line 26                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
     Delete all material and insert:                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
     FURTHER   BE  IT   RESOLVED  that   the  Alaska   State                                                                  
     Legislature  requests the  U.S.  Secretary of  Veterans                                                                    
     Affairs   ensure  that   the   personnel  are   trained                                                                    
     appropriately   in  the   rewritten  policies   so  the                                                                    
     violations described  in this  resolution do  not occur                                                                    
     again.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
1:49:15 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE HIGGINS said  to remove the first use  of the word                                                               
"established" because  the purpose  behind the  entire resolution                                                               
is  that  the   policies  were  working,  but   there  were  some                                                               
individuals who were not properly trained.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR LEDOUX expressed her understanding  that the policies of                                                               
the    Veterans    Health     Administration    facilities    are                                                               
unconscionable, and in violation  of statute, regulation, and the                                                               
U.S. Constitution.                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  HIGGINS  stated  that  may not  be  true  as  the                                                               
committee  has only  read the  handbook  and not  the policy;  in                                                               
fact, the  policy may  be correct and  the training  of employees                                                               
may the problem.                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG noted  there  is  insufficient time  to                                                               
research this topic;  however, if the committee  seeks action now                                                               
it could ask  VA and Congress to  take a look at  the problem and                                                               
take corrective action.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  HIGGINS observed  that is  what the  RESOLVE says                                                             
now.                                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
1:52:45 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG suggested  on  page 2,  line 28  delete                                                               
"are" and insert  "may be."  Also, the  legislature could request                                                               
that Congress,  in its oversight  function, take a look  into the                                                               
issue.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR  LEDOUX  asked whether  this  is  viewed as  a  friendly                                                               
amendment.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE HUGHES responded:                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
     I have  a problem  with it because  I think  that we've                                                                    
     agreed that  there's a  problem, and  we all  looked at                                                                    
     the  procedures   ...  and   you  can  tell   that  the                                                                    
     procedures need to be worked on.   We can see that they                                                                    
     need to be  addressed. ... So I had a  way perhaps that                                                                    
     we could craft  this and I can amend  my amendment. ...                                                                    
     We could state that  "the procedures established by the                                                                    
     United States Secretary of  Veterans Affairs on holiday                                                                    
     practices at Veterans  Health Administration facilities                                                                    
     are  unconscionable."   ...  If  we're   just  allowing                                                                    
     Congress to review it then  there - we're not making as                                                                    
     strong  as  a  statement  then  if we  say  this  is  a                                                                    
     problem, the procedures aren't right.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
The committee took an at-ease from 1:54 p.m. to 2:15 p.m.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
2:15:35 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE HUGHES withdrew Conceptual Amendment 2.  Without                                                                 
further objection, it was so ordered.                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
2:15:49 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE HIGGINS moved to adopt Conceptual Amendment [3].                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
2:15:56 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR LEDOUX objected for the purpose of discussion.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE HIGGINS explained that Conceptual Amendment [3]                                                                  
amends Version N on page 2, beginning at line 26 as follows:                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
     Delete all material and insert:                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
     FURTHER  RESOLVED  that  the Alaska  State  Legislature                                                                  
     finds  it   greatly  troubling  that   the  established                                                                    
     policies and procedures of  the United States Secretary                                                                    
     of  Veterans  Affairs  on   holiday  practices  at  the                                                                    
     Veterans Health Administration  facilities appear to be                                                                    
     being  ignored  and   respectfully  requests  that  the                                                                    
     United States Secretary of  Veterans Affairs review the                                                                    
     present  established policies  on holiday  practices at                                                                    
     Veterans  Health  Administration facilities  and  train                                                                    
     personnel  on  those  policies  so  that  the  apparent                                                                    
     violations  of  veterans'   rights  described  in  this                                                                    
     resolution do not occur again; and be it                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE HIGGINS added that another change is as follows:                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
     Page 2, line 22 after "messages"                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
          Insert ", music,"                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
2:17:40 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR  LEDOUX   removed  her   objection.     Without  further                                                               
objection, Conceptual Amendment [3] was adopted.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG directed  attention  to Consent  Decree                                                               
Civil Action No. 4:11-ev-01992,  United States District Court for                                                               
the  Southern District  of Texas,  Houston Division,  noting that                                                               
the decree addresses  activities at a VA  cemetery, and suggested                                                               
that the committee might want  to consider researching this topic                                                               
as an agenda item during the next session.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR  LEDOUX   expressed  her  preference  to   consider  the                                                               
resolution before the committee.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
2:19:36 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE HUGHES moved to adopt  Conceptual Amendment [4] to                                                               
add the  director of the Alaska  VA Healthcare System on  page 3,                                                               
line  16   following  "Department   of  Military   and  Veterans'                                                               
Affairs;".  Without objection, it was so ordered.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
2:20:36 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  SADDLER moved  Conceptual  Amendment  [5] to  add                                                               
"Alaska"  on page  3, line  16 preceding  "Department".   Without                                                               
objection, it was so ordered.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MR. HOLLEN read the following quote from George Washington:                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
     The willingness with which our  young people are likely                                                                    
     to serve in any war,  no matter how justified, shall be                                                                    
     directly proportional to how  they perceive veterans of                                                                    
     earlier wars were treated by their nation.                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE SADDLER  agreed that compensation,  propensity and                                                               
the  perception of  how veterans  are treated  are important  for                                                               
recruiting.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE HUGHES thanked the bill's sponsor and staff.                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG concurred.                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
2:23:20 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
The committee took an at-ease from 2:23 p.m. to 2:26 p.m.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
2:26:35 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE HIGGINS moved to report  the proposed House CS for                                                               
CSSJR 24,  Version 28-LS1412\N,  Bannister, 4/10/14,  as amended,                                                               
out  of   committee  with  individual  recommendations   and  the                                                               
accompanying  fiscal  notes.   Hearing  no  objection, HCS  CSSJR                                                               
24(MLV)  was  reported  from  the   House  Special  Committee  on                                                               
Military and Veterans' Affairs.                                                                                                 

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
SJR 24 CS version N.pdf HMLV 4/10/2014 1:00:00 PM
SJR 24
SJR 24 - Fiscal Note - SSTA.pdf HMLV 4/10/2014 1:00:00 PM
SJR 24
SJR 24 Supporting documents Jeffery Milligan letter to VA.pdf HMLV 4/10/2014 1:00:00 PM
SJR 24
SJR 24 supporting documents VA response.pdf HMLV 4/10/2014 1:00:00 PM
SJR 24
VA Christmas Card Policy.msg HMLV 4/10/2014 1:00:00 PM
SJR 24
SJR024B.PDF HMLV 4/10/2014 1:00:00 PM
SJR 24
SJR 24 supporting documents VA handbook 1111.02.pdf HMLV 4/10/2014 1:00:00 PM
SJR 24
SJR 24 supporting documents Consent Decree Signed 101911.pdf HMLV 4/10/2014 1:00:00 PM
SJR 24