Legislature(1997 - 1998)

03/22/1997 10:05 AM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
txt
 HB 155 - HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION FEES & HEARINGS                            
                                                                               
 The next order of business to come before the House State Affairs             
 Standing Committee was HB 155, "An Act relating to hearings before            
 and authorizing fees for the State Commission for Human Rights; and           
 providing for an effective date."                                             
                                                                               
 Number 0575                                                                   
                                                                               
 PAULA HALEY, Executive Director, Alaska State Commission for Human            
 Rights, was the first person to testify via the telephone in                  
 Anchorage.  The bill was part of the agency's response to increased           
 demand for services from the Alaskan public in the wake of                    
 diminished resources.  Over the past 15 years complaints of                   
 discriminations filed had nearly tripled while at the same time the           
 agency had lost 35 percent of its staff.  As a result, the agency             
 had been working to increase its efficiency but because of the                
 increase in filings it had not been able to bring its inventory               
 down.  In fact, the filings had burgeoned to an all time high.  The           
 commission realized that seeking additional resources alone was not           
 enough so to better face the work load challenge it had reviewed              
 and revised its internal processes and procedures, amended its                
 regulations, and proposed HB 155.  The bill would allow for both a            
 cost-saving measure and would give the authority to charge fees for           
 certain services.  Any fees generated or money saved, from holding            
 hearings at the agency's office, and by not transcribing every                
 hearing would be used towards the investigation and enforcement of            
 the law.  The money would allow the agency to use temporary staff,            
 for processing, investigations, pay overtime, and quicker                     
 investigations.  The public was not satisfied with the time it took           
 to complete an investigation.  At this moment, there were over 360            
 cases that were not assigned to an investigator and could stay on             
 hold for up to nine months.  Therefore, HB 155 would be an                    
 essential piece of the commission's effort to grapple with the                
 delays by saving money, streamlining its process, and allowing for            
 the collection of fees.  She and the commissioners urged the                  
 support of the committee members.                                             
                                                                               
 Number 0762                                                                   
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE IVAN asked Ms. Haley if she had a breakdown of the             
 cases for the whole state?                                                    
                                                                               
 Number 0814                                                                   
                                                                               
 MS. HALEY stated that the agency would hold hearings only in                  
 instances where there was substantial evidence.  And if the                   
 employer, for example, did not wish to fly to the commission's                
 office, the hearing would be heard telephonically.  If it was                 
 important to see the chief witness, for example, he or she would be           
 brought to the hearing site.  However, often the complaining party            
 in rural Alaska moved from the area and the state.  Therefore,                
 telephonic communication would help deal with the problem.  She               
 also hoped that the impact on the non-urban areas would be very               
 limited.                                                                      
                                                                               
 CHAIR JAMES asked Ms. Haley to provide to Representative Ivan a               
 recap of where the majority of the cases came from in Alaska.                 
                                                                               
 Number 0930                                                                   
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE DYSON said he could provide to Representative Ivan             
 the annual report that gave the information today.                            
                                                                               
 Number 0941                                                                   
                                                                               
 MS. HALEY replied in the annual report there was pie-shape chart of           
 the areas where the cases came from around the state.                         
                                                                               
 Number 0963                                                                   
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY asked Ms. Haley who the fees would be assessed           
 to?                                                                           
                                                                               
 Number 0971                                                                   
                                                                               
 MS. HALEY replied the commissioners had not spent a great deal of             
 time discussing the particulars of the assessment.  It would have             
 to be done by regulation.  The initial reaction was in response to            
 the educational aspect of the commission.  She did a fair amount of           
 training, as resources allowed, hoping that the training would                
 prevent complaints from being filed.  And many that approached the            
 commission were willing to pay for the seminars or the materials              
 prepared but it was unable to accept the money.  If those fees                
 could be secured, they could go to the enforcement aspect of the              
 commission.                                                                   
                                                                               
 Number 1035                                                                   
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY asked Ms. Haley if there was intent to assess            
 a fee from those that filed a complaint?                                      
                                                                               
 Number 1045                                                                   
                                                                               
 MS. HALEY replied the commissioners could look at that under the              
 bill.  However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that              
 gave $100,000 to $120,000 to support its efforts strongly                     
 discouraged and had indicated by letter that it would terminate its           
 contract if the agency was to charge a fee for filing a claim.                
                                                                               
 Number 1099                                                                   
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY stated he would be even more concerned if we             
 were looking at assessing a fee for those who were required to                
 defend themselves.                                                            
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY asked Ms. Haley why the entire sentence was              
 not deleted on page 2, lines 19-21?  By deleting the entire                   
 language, it reverted to the Open Meetings Act.                               
                                                                               
 Number 1124                                                                   
                                                                               
 MS. HALEY replied the requirement for a transcript had been in the            
 statute for a long time.  The hearings were sometimes very short              
 and informal and sometimes they were like mini-trials lasting up to           
 a week.  It was very expensive to contract for those services.  The           
 agency wanted to just be able to record the hearings and to make              
 the tapes available rather than transcribing every hearing.  She              
 did not fully understand his reference to the Open Meetings Act               
 because the hearing process was already open to the public, except            
 for the deliberations.                                                        
                                                                               
 Number 1181                                                                   
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY wondered why the entire sentence was not                 
 deleted because the commission was required to follow the Open                
 Meetings Act by law anyway.                                                   
                                                                               
 Number 1203                                                                   
                                                                               
 MS. HALEY replied she was not sure about the applicability of the             
 Open Meetings Act.  In other words, these were administrative                 
 hearings on cases presented under the Human Rights Law.  They were            
 not meetings of the commissioners as public policy makers that                
 would be bound by the Open Meetings Act, for example.                         
                                                                               
 Number 1247                                                                   
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE DYSON explained he had a part in getting this going            
 when he was on the Human Rights Commission.  The dilemma that the             
 commission faced was a huge back log of investigations and                    
 complaints of untimely investigations.  As a result, the                      
 commissioners found themselves directing the activity of the staff.           
 For instance, when Ms. Haley conducted a training, time was spent             
 away from the job.  He wondered, therefore, if the commission could           
 be reimbursed for her expenses.  The answer was, no, under existing           
 law.  Thus, he suggested a bill that would allow the commission to            
 be reimbursed for the out of pocket expenses incurred.                        
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE DYSON further explained the second step was to                 
 eliminate the mindless obedience of the law on where the meetings             
 were held when it did not serve the purpose of justice and the                
 complainant.  This allowed for more flexibility, cost                         
 effectiveness, and effectiveness for the complainant and the                  
 defendant.                                                                    
                                                                               
 Number 1368                                                                   
                                                                               
 MS. HALEY replied she had been allowed to be reimbursed for the               
 cost of an airplane ticket but not for the time away from the                 
 agency or for the value of the training in terms of preparations              
 and materials.  It was time to look for cost effective measures and           
 if telephonic hearings would save money then that was the way to go           
 and the bill would allow for that.  It also allowed for people to             
 request a change of venue for good cause.                                     
                                                                               
 Number 1449                                                                   
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY stated he was concerned about the broad nature           
 of Section 1.  The bill would give the agency the regulatory                  
 authority to assess fees for investigations, complaints and                   
 hearings.                                                                     
                                                                               
 CHAIR JAMES asked Representative Vezey if he was proposing a change           
 to the bill?                                                                  
                                                                               
 Number 1492                                                                   
                                                                               
 MS. HALEY replied the commissioners would not be opposed to a                 
 change.  The original version had the word "educational" included             
 for clarification.                                                            
                                                                               
 Number 1524                                                                   
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE IVAN explained he also had the same concern as                 
 Representative Vezey.                                                         
                                                                               
 CHAIR JAMES announced the bill would be held until Tuesday, March             
 25, 1997 in order to look at Section 1 further.                               

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