Legislature(1997 - 1998)
03/05/1998 08:02 AM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 362 - AIRPORT MILITARY LOUNGES Number 0624 CHAIR JAMES announced the next order of business is, HB 362, "An Act relating to the use of space for military lounges in state- owned or state-controlled airports." Number 0628 DONALD STOLWORTHY, Legislative Administrative Assistant to Representative Beverly Masek came before the committee. He stated HB 362 is designed to codify the situation that is currently going on in the Anchorage International Airport. It provides the opportunity in other state-controlled or owned airports for the airport directors to offer, if they have space available, rent-free space for military lounges if those lounges are operated by non- profit organizations. Around the country, this is generally done by the USO [United Service Organization]. In the state of Alaska, the one lounge we have is operated by the Anchorage Armed Services, YMCA [Young Men Christian Association]. MR. STOLWORTHY said, "The current situation is they don't pay rent, they pay $10 a year in a lease, but the airport director doesn't have any authority to do that. What he does is he creates this lease - the FAA is happy that it's not a rent-free space, and then he divides that cost among all the other tenants. What this strives to do is to make sure that relationship can continue and he has statutory authority to answer the FAA, if they ever bring it up, or if there is change in the Administration. There's a zero fiscal note provided by the Department of Administration, they said it will have no fiscal impact. And the Department of Transportation [and Public Facilities], when they did testify before the Military [and Veterans' Affairs] Committee, stated that their understanding is, the committee's understanding as well, that if the space is available, it's not mandated that the airport director kicks somebody out - a revenue paying entity out to provide a lounge." Number 0650 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY asked why do we need this. He indicated there is a USO lounge in Fairbanks. MR. STOLWORTHY replied Anchorage and Fairbanks are the two major destinations for military personnel traveling. He reiterated FAA requires the airport directors to maximize revenues at the airports and they do not have statutory authority to provide rent-free space. The reason it is needed is to provide the airport directors with justification for what they have been doing so far. If the FAA decided to push the issue and say, "You're going to have to generate revenue with this space." Last year the airport lounge in Anchorage had 22,000 visitors. The lounge is all run by volunteers and doesn't cost the state anything. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY indicated it was his understanding that all the other tenants are basically sharing in the cost for providing this space, they also share in the cost of providing public restrooms. He asked why is it a problem today. He could not image the FAA or anybody else telling the USO to get out. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY said, "Not that I'm opposed to what you're trying to do here, but this hasn't been a problem until today, not that it's a problem today, but why?" Number 0680 MR. STOLWORTHY replied Representative Vezey is right, there is not a problem. He said the [Military and Veteran's Affairs] committee was contacted by the Anchorage Armed Services YMCA and Representative Martin. They were concerned that if there was a shift in the FAA management style that it could become an issue and they wanted to basically head it off at the pass. CHAIR JAMES asked if that had anything to do with budget-cutting everywhere. She also asked what triggered their fear. MR. STOLWORTHY responded that he did not know. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY asked if the USOs were being threatened in the rest of the country. He said he could not conceive of anybody making a political decision to kick the USOs out of our airports. MR. STOLWORTHY replied, "We haven't heard anything about any of the lounges being in danger." Number 0697 REPRESENTATIVE HODGINS stated it is sometimes difficult to justify some of this when you have the people of the state of Alaska supplying a service that they themselves cannot use. He recognized the need for helping the military and armed forces. He indicated he was prepared to make a motion. CHAIR JAMES noted people were waiting on teleconference. REPRESENTATIVE DYSON said oftentimes we have (Indisc. - coughing) acceptable practices that skate near the edge of being unauthorized and periodically we need to go back and bring our regulations, codes, and statutes into line with what is generally accepted practice. He mentioned, "Representative Ivan superintended the Community and Regional Affairs meeting, I believe yesterday, where we in fact made it..." TAPE 98-31, SIDE A Number 001 REPRESENTATIVE DYSON continued, "...thing to be doing. I think that, as I understand this bill, it doesn't solve the (Indisc. - paper rustling) problem, it heads off a potential future problem and I can certainly say that we in Anchorage have had a long standing love affair with the military there. Probably the most integrated military civilian population I've ever run into in North America, and doing everything we can to make that a comfortable transition and a welcome place for military folks is high on the list of priorities for the community and chamber of commerce and the visitors' association. I see that this bill just furthers two things, sending a message that military are not only welcome but inordinately important in what has been a bastion and bulwark against those who would take away our freedoms, and it may again within our life times be so. And brings the statutes into line with practice." Number 0040 TOM MORGAN, Executive, Director, Armed Services, Young Men Christian Association, testified via teleconference. He mentioned the Armed Services YMCA has been serving the traveling military through the military courtesy lounge at the Anchorage International Airport. He said, "A safe and secure place has been dedicated to the armed forces at no expense to the state or the military. Reaching over 23,000 visitors in 1997, squadron booster clubs provide volunteers to staff this lounge 365 days a year, meeting the needs of domestic and international traveling military members and their families. Alaska continues to be a strategic importance in the training of our military and defense of the nation. The military has always been there for us. We should not shuck our duties to them." MR. MORGAN continued, "The existing statute does not allow the Armed Services YMCA to provide these services without a rental charge. So that we may continue to meet the needs of the traveling military in Alaska, the Armed Services YMCA supports HB 362. This change will allow us to continue our work, and at the same time authorize the Anchorage International Airport to offer the space rent-free." MR. MORGAN mentioned this arrangement would be consistent with other military lounge airport programs that are run by the Armed Services YMCAs and USOs throughout the other states. Other groups, school classes, boy scouts, visitors from outside have asked and been granted the use of these facilities. Number 0084 DENNIS POSHARD, Legislative Liaison, Office of the Commissioner, Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, provided information on HB 362. He said, "The department is supportive of this piece of legislation, however, as you note in the fiscal note, it's a zero fiscal note and we put in a zero fiscal note based on some basic assumptions that any space that is currently generating revenue from a tenant we would not terminate a lease in order to put in a military lounge. We would continue to lease to tenants that exist. Nor would we - space that was available because a certain tenant just left, if there was someone waiting to take that over we would not put in a military lounge because we're required, by FAA, to maximize our lease revenues. However, at any location where space is available, we will be more than happy to make it available for the purposes of the military lounge. We only have one currently in Alaska and that's in the Anchorage International Airport. As of this time we've had no other requests, to my knowledge, to put in a military lounge, but certainly any requests that we receive we'll try every way we can to accommodate those requests." REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY said he has a tendency to question why you fix something that is not broken. He said, "This does concern me in that this is applying to every airport facility in the state and it says that we shall permit without rental charges the rent-free facilities. That's mandatory language, we're addressing a problem that doesn't seem to be broken. The relationship that me and my constituents have with airport leasing is far from harmonious and friendly. Why do we want to go in here and create a new source of friction between my constituents and the DOT/PF airport leasing?" MR. POSHARD indicated he was not sure that we are creating some source of conflict. He believed DOT/PF would view HB 362 requiring them to provide space, free of charge, in any state-owned or controlled airport. He said, "I don't think that I read in the bill that it would require us to bump any current tenants or anything of that nature. ... It's hard for me to speak to whether or not this is creating some source of conflict between the department and potential tenants. I guess we see it as a positive step." Number 0168 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY said the bill says, "use of state land and buildings shall be permitted without charge." He noted it is broad in whom we are bringing into this. It includes the Alaska State Militia. Representative Vezey asked for the definition of the "state militia." MR. POSHARD said he was not prepared to answer that question. He deferred the question to the sponsor. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY believed it could be found in Title 1, Chapter 05. He said, "It is extremely broad definition, it's anybody the governor says is in the malitia, is in the malitia. I think between the age of 18 and 55." He indicated he has a number of concerns and reiterated, we are trying to fix something that is not broken and the mandatory wording "shall," -- potentially what we are getting is that we just want it to be permissible, but HB 362 says it is mandatory and has a very broad definition of whom we are mandated to provide this service to. Number 0197 CHAIR JAMES stated she agrees with Representative Vezey. She said, "You testified that you would not move somebody out of any space, so you'd only do it as a space available. It doesn't say that in here. ... It just tells about for it and setting up an (Indisc.) and this is all the existing language, and then it says however, 'use of land and buildings by the Alaska Wings Civil Air Patrol and this squadron shall be permitted without rental charges.' And then they slipped in that, 'the use of the spaces, state-owned and state-controlled airports as lounges for members of the United States Armed Forces, the Alaska National Guard, the Naval Militia, or the Alaska State Militia' which is not defined, here anyway. If the lounges are operated by persons exempt from taxation shall be permitted without rental charges, it doesn't sound to me like you have an option." MR. POSHARD said he could see that maybe the language needs some work. He said, "I think our interpretation, the word 'permitted without rental charges,' that phrase..." CHAIR JAMES interjected, "The permit undoes the shall." MR. POSHARD replied not that it undoes it, but that it refers to the rental charges in that we shall not permit it by charging any fee for the space. He said, "I don't think that we've interpreted that we have to make the space available. I think we've interpreted that we cannot charge a fee for that space." CHAIR JAMES indicated she is in favor of this legislation, but she would like to get a legal opinion. Number 0227 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON said, "I think all we're trying to do is codify what we are already doing. There's noting wrong with that. Speaking as a Vet., temporarily here, I think this is very important, but speaking as an Alaskan who also is interested in economic development, the services provided get these people out of the airports often times and into our communities where they can see and appreciate our communities and where they can spend some money too. This also has an economic development component." CHAIR JAMES indicated that HB 362 would be held for further review.