Legislature(1997 - 1998)

03/10/1998 08:00 AM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 329 - HARBORVIEW DEVELOPMENTAL CENTER                                       
Number 0171                                                                    
CHAIR JAMES announced the next order of business would be HB 329,              
"An Act amending the definition of correctional facility to include            
a therapeutic treatment center; providing for the conveyance of the            
Harborview Developmental Center and appurtenant land to the City of            
Valdez for the purpose of conversion and lease of a part of the                
center for a therapeutic treatment center for the Department of                
Corrections; providing that such a land conveyance counts toward               
the general grant land entitlement of the City of Valdez; and                  
providing for an effective date," sponsored by Rules by request of             
the Governor.  She informed the committee that the bill had been               
previously heard.                                                              
Number 0201                                                                    
LARRY STREUBER, Facilities/Planning Chief, Division of                         
Administrative Services, Department of Health and Social Services,             
came before the committee.  He said Harborview, for many years, was            
the facility in the state for the developmentally disabled                     
population.  Three years ago a decision was made to close                      
Harborview and move the residents out into community settings.                 
Harborview is a valuable asset and to protect Harborview the                   
Department of Health and Social Services implemented an asset                  
protection plan January 1.  Mr. Streuber informed the committee                
that when all the residents were moved out, the department divided             
the mechanical electrical operations of the building into logical              
units and reduced the energy necessary to keep the building                    
functional, but not operating at full capacity.  One maintenance               
mechanic was retained to oversee the operations of the whole                   
building.  He said he would like to point out that the Valdez                  
Regional Health Authority, which has the community hospital, still             
occupies approximately 17 percent of that complex.  An important               
point to note is that if the facility isn't transferred to the city            
of Valdez, it remains a state responsibility.  He stated that the              
state will have the responsibility to protect that building and                
take care of it until a final disposal can be arranged.  If the                
building is to remain in state ownership, in fiscal year (FY) 99               
the department estimates that it would take about $265,000 to keep             
that building in asset protection.                                             
CHAIR JAMES asked if there were any questions.  There being none,              
she asked if anybody was willing to make a motion to move the bill.            
Number 0233                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ made a motion to move HB 329 out of                   
committee with the attached fiscal notes and with individual                   
Number 0242                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE DYSON objected.  He stated that was asked to read a             
missive from Senator Jerry Ward.  He read, "As chair of the Senate             
Finance Subcommittee on Corrections, my concerns are not directed              
toward the merit of filling the economic void left by the                      
Governor's decision to close the Harborview Hospital or the clear              
and present need for a substance abuse treatment amongst the                   
majority of Alaska's inmates.  My concerns question whether funding            
is small isolated therapeutic (indisc.) is the highest and best                
used of correctional resources at a time when our prisons and jails            
are faced with the worst overcrowding in state history.  I need not            
remind the committee that the Department of Corrections' operating             
budget is the fastest growing budget amongst the state agencies.               
Revenue enhancement, programs efficiencies, economies of scale, are            
but a few of the messes we're trying to ploy to hold the line in               
Corrections' spending.  The Harborview proposal doesn't simply fail            
the wide stewardship tests, if there is no rational relationship to            
the commitment we have to reduce unnecessary spending and increase             
government efficiency.  At a daily operating rate of $124.37 per               
inmate, per bed, the Harborview proposal ranks as a third highest              
bed rate in Alaska.  Only Bethel and Ketchikan slightly edge out               
the Harborview - is the costliest correction service in the state.             
Indeed when custody is considered, these are the most expensive low            
custody beds in the nation.  These inmates are indeed low custody.             
Wouldn't it be wiser to establish therapeutic pre-release                      
communities -- the existing half-way house at two-thirds to one-               
half the cost?  Again, I do not dispute the need for this type of              
program for Alaska's felony inmate population.  These programs,                
however, must be funded in the context of our higher need for safe             
secure prisons and jails.  There can be no question that                       
Corrections can achieve a significantly better bang for it's buck              
by developing programs of sites that are closer to professional                
treatment resources which provided greater economies of scale.  The            
formula we must apply in the committee is the greatest service for             
the highest number of offenders or lowest cost without unreasonable            
reduction in quality.  The Harborview proposal fails this test.                
Corrections has several sites which house hundreds of low custody              
prisoners.  There is no reason for a therapeutic community cannot              
be established within the confines and programmatic structures of              
existing facility or halfway house.  Indeed, the Palmer                        
Correctional Center at Sutton was the preferred site for the                   
program of the last Administration.  That whole plan was scrapped              
in this Administration for reasons that appear to have little to do            
with sound correction practice.  Indeed, the economies of scale,               
extraordinary facilities and lower costs to the proposed Fort                  
Greely prison makes more sense than the Harborview proposal.  The              
legislature chooses to fund this program.  Let's call it what it               
is, gratuitous government handout to the city of Valdez.  There are            
at times sound policy reasons for such government subsidies and                
this may be one of those times, but let's not fool ourselves into              
believing this proposal is the wisest use of correction resources              
or is, as the commissioner so often says, sound correctional                   
practice.  Thank you for your attention and consideration."                    
Number 0307                                                                    
CHAIR JAMES noted she spoke with Senator Ward's staff the previous             
day and there was a request to hold the bill.  She said his reason             
is purely financial.  Chair James said that is not an issue for the            
State Affairs Committee, it is an issue for the Finance Committee.             
She noted the next committee of referral is the Judiciary                      
REPRESENTATIVE DYSON questioned what the responsibility is of the              
State Affairs Committee.                                                       
CHAIR JAMES stated there are certain agencies that the State                   
Affairs Committee does overlook.  One is the Troopers and the                  
Department of Transportation, the Department of Administration, but            
actually any bill could fall within the committee's purview.  Chair            
James said although the committee's purview is financial as well as            
it is Judiciary, as well as how it affects other issues, the                   
primary responsibility for the financial decisions is in the                   
Finance Committee.  If that is the only reason why this bill should            
not go forward, the proper place to make that decision is in the               
Finance Committee.                                                             
Number 0341                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE DYSON said, "If indeed it was rational to send this             
bill to us, what's our responsibility?  What are the questions we              
should be asking?  What are the public policy issues involved in               
this bill that we have a responsibility for?  They escape me."                 
CHAIR JAMES responded, "Before I try really hard to not answer your            
question again, Representative Dyson, well maybe Representative                
Vezey wants to shed some light on that issue or maybe he has a                 
different idea that he wants to speak about.  So Representative                
Vezey, you're up."                                                             
Number 0354                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY said he would like to change the subject.  He             
stated he cannot vote to move HB 329 out of committee with the                 
current fiscal notes.  He stated a fiscal note is an authorization             
of spending and there is no way he would vote for that level of                
spending.  He said if the committee or sponsor wants to revise the             
fiscal note, he would give the bill due consideration.                         
Number 0365                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE ELTON stated he is interested in the bill simply                
because he thinks the affairs of the state are well served by                  
whether or not we're releasing people who are closer to                        
rehabilitation than not.  He said he believes that is an issue that            
should be considered in the State Affairs Committee and the other              
committees.  He referred to the fiscal note and said the                       
unfortunate thing about a fiscal note is a fiscal note tells us                
what we're going to be spending now.  A fiscal note doesn't                    
necessarily reflect what we're going to be saving in the future.               
Representative Elton said there is a cost to rehabilitation and it             
is an up-front cost and the fiscal note reflects that we've got to             
pay it.  The fiscal note doesn't reflect what will be saved in the             
future.  He said he believes the experience in other jurisdictions             
has shown that we won't get 100 percent rehabilitation.  The                   
experience in other jurisdictions has reflected that there will be             
a significant cost savings in the future because some of these                 
people aren't going to be coming back through the public safety                
network or the court network.  He stated the fiscal note may                   
reflect an up-front cost, but doesn't reflect our downstream                   
Number 0398                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ pointed out that the savings for                      
prevention of alcohol kind of runs seven to one.  So we might have             
a fiscal note of $2.4 million, but the savings are going to be                 
closer to $20 million.                                                         
CHAIR JAMES said she would be very surprised if the fiscal note                
passes the Finance Committee, but she is willing to move the bill              
forward to the next committee of referral.                                     
Number 0405                                                                    
A roll call vote was taken.  Representatives Berkowitz, Elton,                 
Hodgins and James voted in favor of moving the bill.                           
Representatives Dyson and Vezey voted against moving the bill.  So             
HB 329 moved out of the House State Affairs Standing Committee.                

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