Legislature(2001 - 2002)

04/26/2001 08:03 AM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 145 - VILLAGE PUB.SAFETY OFFICER PROGRAM                                                                                   
Number 1827                                                                                                                     
CHAIR COGHILL announced that the  next order of business would be                                                               
CS FOR  SENATE BILL  NO. 145(FIN), "An  Act relating  to regional                                                               
and village public safety officers;  relating to the expansion of                                                               
the  village  public  safety  officer   program  to  include  the                                                               
provision  of  probation  and parole  supervision  services;  and                                                               
relating  to  retirement  benefits   for  village  public  safety                                                               
Number 1850                                                                                                                     
SENATOR  RICK HALFORD,  Alaska State  Legislature, sponsor,  said                                                               
that since  SB 145  is fairly  self-explanatory, he  would simply                                                               
explain how he got interested in the concept of SB 145:                                                                         
     If you  look in  our correctional institutions,  we see                                                                    
     ... too  many rural and  village Alaskans.   Should you                                                                    
     ask why they're there, you  see ... [that] too many are                                                                    
     there  for, essentially,  probation violations.   Three                                                                    
     years  ago, we  started on  an  effort to  try and  get                                                                    
     people back  to the  small communities ...  [that] they                                                                    
     came from.   What happens is:  ...  people have alcohol                                                                    
     problems;  they get  in trouble;  they're incarcerated.                                                                    
     As a  condition of probation,  they have to stay  in an                                                                    
     urban  center  or  a  regional  center  where  all  the                                                                    
     alcohol, all  the predators, and all  the problems are.                                                                    
     So, they go  back through the cycle, and  that's one of                                                                    
     the many reasons  that our system is not as  fair as it                                                                    
     could be.                                                                                                                  
     So we've put in a  demonstration project to try and get                                                                    
     people  back  to  their   villages  by  allowing  VPSOs                                                                    
     [Village Public  Safety Officers]  to get a  little bit                                                                    
     of   extra  training   and   ...   help  in   probation                                                                    
     supervision;  so  somebody  [on probation]  that  comes                                                                    
     from  a  very  small  village can  get  back  to  where                                                                    
     they've got  family, where  they've got  support, [and]                                                                    
     where  they're  away from  all  the  problems [of]  ...                                                                    
     regional centers.   That's been  going for a  couple of                                                                    
     years  and it  worked.   The  first part  of this  bill                                                                    
     makes that a  statewide program.  It also  allows, as a                                                                    
     part of that, ... for an  increase in pay for VPSOs who                                                                    
     take the  training and go  through the process  and are                                                                    
     working  with  the  supervision,  not  only  of  Public                                                                    
     Safety,    but   also    the    supervision   of    the                                                                    
     probation/parole  corrections people  ....   So,  those                                                                    
     are two elements of the bill.                                                                                              
Number 1957                                                                                                                     
SENATOR HALFORD continued:                                                                                                      
     The third  element of  the bill is  to create  a career                                                                    
     path,  so  that  these  people who  have  a  very  high                                                                    
     turnover  rate and  have a  lot expected  of them  with                                                                    
     very  few  resources, have  at  least  someplace to  be                                                                    
     headed.    The  turnover  rate is  something  like  two                                                                    
     years,  [which]  costs  ... something  like  $6,000  or                                                                    
     $7,000 to  train these people.   About half  the people                                                                    
     you see go  through the program are trying  to get into                                                                    
     some kind  of law  enforcement, and  that's the  way to                                                                    
     get some training to be  a security guard somewhere, or                                                                    
     something else.  They're not  really committed to going                                                                    
     back  into  Village-Public-Safety-Officer   work  on  a                                                                    
     long-term basis.  We want  to increase that; we'll save                                                                    
     the money  in training.   ... That's  the third  leg of                                                                    
     [SB 145]:  ... a career path.                                                                                              
     The fourth  leg of it  is a retirement program  that is                                                                    
     the state's  basic retirement  program in  PERS [Public                                                                    
     Employees'  Retirement  System];  it's not  the  public                                                                    
     safety retirement  program, it's  not the  highest cost                                                                    
     one, but at  least it's a basic safety  net.  Depending                                                                    
     on  which of  the corporations  they work  through, the                                                                    
     retirement  programs  are  good, bad,  or  indifferent.                                                                    
     This gives  them a choice  of getting into  that [PERS]                                                                    
     retirement [program].   So  it's a  four-legged program                                                                    
     for  what I  consider the  best deal  there is,  in law                                                                    
     enforcement, in  the State  of Alaska  in the  areas of                                                                    
     the highest need and the lowest local resources.                                                                           
REPRESENTATIVE JAMES thanked Senator  Halford for bringing SB 145                                                               
before the committee, and said she is very impressed.                                                                           
SENATOR HALFORD added  that although the fiscal  note shows about                                                               
$1.1 million, the thing that can't  be quantified is how much the                                                               
state  will  save   by  keeping  people  from   going  back  into                                                               
"corrections."  He opined that SB  145 provides a real savings to                                                               
the state,  not just in  cash, but also in  what it does  for the                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE  STEVENS said  it seems  to him  that some  of the                                                               
biggest  problems pertaining  to VPSOs  are burnout  and lack  of                                                               
career  and  retirement  opportunities.   He  asked  what  career                                                               
opportunities would be made available via SB 145.                                                                               
Number 2100                                                                                                                     
SENATOR HALFORD  explained that SB  145 creates a tier  between a                                                               
State  Trooper  and  a  VPSO, called  a  Regional  Public  Safety                                                               
Officer  (RPSO).   He added  that the  fiscal note  reflects four                                                               
RPSOs positions, which  are intended to be filled  from the ranks                                                               
of the  VPSOs rather than "filled  from above."  The  RPSOs would                                                               
have  the  same  responsibility   and  training  as  full  police                                                               
officers,  and  hopefully  would  not have  to  leave  their  own                                                               
community, although they would be  responsible for the VPSOs from                                                               
the other  communities in the  area/region.  The  RPSO [position]                                                               
is intended to be a career path for the VPSO program.                                                                           
SENATOR HALFORD noted  that one of the things that  VPSOs need is                                                               
support; they  get it  from the Troopers,  which also  gives them                                                               
the  respect of  the community.   But  if they're  having trouble                                                               
with  somebody, they're  unarmed and  they  don't have  a lot  of                                                               
power or  force in a small  community.  However, if  someone, who                                                               
has obviously  been giving the VPSO  a hard time in  front of the                                                               
rest of the community, leaves for  Bethel or a regional center in                                                               
handcuffs  with  a  Trooper,  the  message  gets  back  that  the                                                               
Troopers  are out  there working  with, supporting,  helping, and                                                               
backing  up the  VPSOs.    Then the  VPSO  in  that community  is                                                               
respected.   That's a  part of  the package,  he opined;  it will                                                               
take more supervision and more help at the Trooper level.                                                                       
REPRESENTATIVE CRAWFORD  noted that according to  testimony heard                                                               
at previous  meetings, there are  about 70 villages that  have no                                                               
law  enforcement at  all.   He  asked  how far  SB  145 would  go                                                               
towards bringing VPSOs to those villages.                                                                                       
SENATOR HALFORD said  that SB 145 upgrades the  VPSO program from                                                               
top to  bottom, and  it creates new  opportunities.   However, it                                                               
doesn't pick  up a  large chunk of  added funds  from communities                                                               
that don't  already have VPSOs.   "There are several  options for                                                               
that," he added, one of which  is some federal money that is tied                                                               
to  "dry communities."   He  explained that  for SB  145, he  was                                                               
working under  the limitations  of "about  a million  dollars" in                                                               
terms of  fiscal notes.   In response to questions,  he clarified                                                               
that it is the fiscal note  that specifies four RPSOs, whereas SB                                                               
145  simply creates  the  RPSO  program.   With  regard to  which                                                               
regions are  going to get  an RPSO, he said  he tends to  look at                                                               
the  poorest areas  of  the state,  "certainly  somewhere in  the                                                               
Chalista (ph)  region, Lower Yukon/Lower Kuskokwim,  ... probably                                                               
Interior Rivers,  and maybe ...  Southeast."  He  added, however,                                                               
that he would leave that decision  to the people who know what is                                                               
really needed:   the  Department of Public  Safety (DPS)  and the                                                               
VPSO coordinators.                                                                                                              
Number 2393                                                                                                                     
CHAIR  COGHILL asked,  "Are we  going  to run  into trouble  with                                                               
probation authority given to VPSOs?"                                                                                            
SENATOR HALFORD  explained that probation authority  is unique in                                                               
that it is  judge, jury, and sentence,  all at the same  time.  A                                                               
full state  probation/parole officer  can "violate"  somebody and                                                               
take him/her  into custody, right  then and there, based  on that                                                               
person's performance.   "That is  not something that you  give to                                                               
the VPSOs,"  he clarified, "that  is something that  remains with                                                               
Corrections."    What   is  being  proposed  via  SB   145  is  a                                                               
coordinated  power  that  is  less than  the  ability  to  simply                                                               
violate  somebody on  the spot.   The  Department of  Corrections                                                               
(DOC) personnel  really have  a unique  authority as  officers of                                                               
the  court to  act in  a far  more expeditious  manner than  most                                                               
CHAIR  COGHILL noted  that  SB 145  is going  to  allow the  PERS                                                               
retirement  system  to  work  through  corporations.    He  asked                                                               
whether the state is going to be able to do that contractually.                                                                 
SENATOR HALFORD said that  the state would be able to  do so.  He                                                               
noted that  both the municipal  league and school boards  are set                                                               
up  in  a similar  fashion.    State government  employs  neither                                                               
group, yet both qualify for PERS.   He added, however, that there                                                               
has  been  some  concern  expressed regarding  how  the  Internal                                                               
Revenue Service (IRS)  will treat a VPSO  retirement program, but                                                               
noted that  he has  seen a legal  analysis which  indicates that,                                                               
"We're OK."                                                                                                                     
Number 2502                                                                                                                     
DOUG NORRIS, Major, Administrative  Commander, Division of Alaska                                                               
State Troopers, Department of Public  Safety (DPS), testified via                                                               
teleconference  and  stated that  he  has  worked with  the  VPSO                                                               
program on and off for about half  of his career.  He said simply                                                               
that the  Alaska State Troopers support  SB 145; "it goes  a long                                                               
way for  our wanting of  more troopers  and VPSOs, and  also that                                                               
midlevel officer, the RPSO."  In  response to a question, he said                                                               
that he did not foresee any  problems with the VPSOs working with                                                               
correctional  officers, which  they already  do, off  and on,  as                                                               
Number 2586                                                                                                                     
BRAD   ANGASAN,  VPSO   Program  Manager,   Bristol  Bay   Native                                                               
Association (BBNA),  testified via  teleconference and  said that                                                               
the BBNA has  been a participant in the  parole supervision pilot                                                               
project  for the  last  two  fiscal years.    This pilot  project                                                               
delegates  authority to  VPSOs  so that  they  can perform  adult                                                               
felony probation  duties.   "What we've been  able to  provide is                                                               
direct on-site monitoring and instant  accountability, as well as                                                               
judicial  follow-through of  a  probationer."   One  of the  more                                                               
obvious  benefits  is  that this  service  is  delivered  locally                                                               
within the  probationer's respective community, and  this service                                                               
eliminates "potential  and infrequent  response" of  the district                                                               
probation  officer, who  is at  times  handicapped by  geographic                                                               
location and other unknown factors.                                                                                             
MR.  ANGASAN  said  that  on  top  of  allowing  probationers  to                                                               
effectively  assimilate  back to  their  villages,  the BBNA  has                                                               
experienced  some  significant  direct  results:    specifically,                                                               
reduction in  annual turnover  of VPSO  staff.   At one  time the                                                               
turnover rate  was above 50  percent but  is currently at  an all                                                               
time low of  about 10 percent.  He said  the BBNA attributes this                                                               
to the  increased compensation  for VPSOs  on the  pilot program,                                                               
although it is still difficult to  hire people at the entry level                                                               
VPSO  salary.   He added  that the  BBNA endorses  the provisions                                                               
allowing VPSOs  into the  PERS.  Currently,  he said,  the BBNA's                                                               
retirement program  is pretty  meager -  about 5  percent; "we're                                                               
simply unable  to provide long  lasting security  for employees."                                                               
He also  said that  regardless of  the BBNA's  immediate turnover                                                               
rate, they  anticipate that many  officers will most  likely move                                                               
onto other  career tracks that offer  equitable pension security.                                                               
"Much to our distaste; we'd rather  employ an officer and be able                                                               
to keep  that person on  and maintain  a career track  within our                                                               
organization ...."   In conclusion, he said the  BBNA endorses SB                                                               
Number 2764                                                                                                                     
ROBIN  F.  LOWN,  VPSO  Program  Manager,  Tlingit-Haida  Central                                                               
Council  (THCC),  and  Central  Council Tlingit  &  Haida  Indian                                                               
Tribes of Alaska  (CCTHITA), said he is also the  chairman of the                                                               
VPSO  Coordinators   Committee,  which   consists  of   the  VPSO                                                               
coordinators from  the nine nonprofit organizations  that run the                                                               
state's VPSO program.   In response to a question  about the PERS                                                               
provision of SB  145, he said that the nine  nonprofits each have                                                               
a different retirement system:  some  of them are really nice and                                                               
some of  them are not; some  offer small annuities and  some have                                                               
regular retirement systems.   The PERS provision of  SB 145 "will                                                               
bring  everybody up  to the  same standard,"  which will  be very                                                               
helpful in enhancing the VPSO program.                                                                                          
CHAIR COGHILL asked  whether the PERS provision  would reduce the                                                               
[retirement program] standard for some VPSOs.                                                                                   
MR. LOWN noted  that the way SB 145 is  currently written, a VPSO                                                               
has  the ability  to "opt  out"  of the  PERS.   In  some of  the                                                               
nonprofits,  the retirement  [program]  is better  than PERS,  so                                                               
some VPSOs  would "opt out," he  surmised.  He added  that if any                                                               
retired state  employees are working  for one of  these nonprofit                                                               
organizations as a VPSO/RPSO, he/she  would probably "opt out" so                                                               
as not  to give  up state  retirement benefits.   Mr.  Lown noted                                                               
that  in  addition  to  the   BBNA,  the  other  eight  nonprofit                                                               
organizations  that have  VPSOs also  support  SB 145.   He  then                                                               
listed  low pay  and  lack of  benefits as  some  of the  factors                                                               
involved in the current high turnover  rate of VPSOs; SB 145 goes                                                               
a long  way towards helping resolve  some of those problems.   He                                                               
also noted  that the RPSO  position gives VPSOs someplace  to go,                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE  STEVENS  asked  what purpose  the  RPSO  position                                                               
would  serve, aside  from providing  a career  opportunity for  a                                                               
TAPE 01-49, SIDE B                                                                                                              
Number 2988                                                                                                                     
MR.  LOWN said  that  the  oversight function  an  RPSO would  be                                                               
performing is currently  done by the Alaska State  Troopers.  The                                                               
ratio  of  VPSOs  to  RPSOs,  however,  would  be  less  than  it                                                               
currently is for the troopers providing oversight now.                                                                          
REPRESENTATIVE CRAWFORD noted  that VPSOs are on call  24 hours a                                                               
day.   He asked whether  VPSOs are allowed  to "go on  with other                                                               
tasks," for  example, subsistence  hunting and fishing,  or other                                                               
aspects of their lives.                                                                                                         
MR. LOWN clarified that the VPSOs  are not required to be on call                                                               
24 hours  a day,  but because  they are  living in  the community                                                               
they  serve, and  everybody knows  who  they are  and where  they                                                               
live, they are, in  effect, on call all the time.   He added that                                                               
VPSOs can  leave the village to  tend to other things,  and there                                                               
are some  provisions that allow  them to go  subsistence fishing.                                                               
But the  problem is that VPSOs  are right there, and  they're the                                                               
ones that  people go to when  there are problems, which  leads to                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE WILSON asked whether the RPSOs would carry guns.                                                                 
MR. LOWN  explained that according to  SB 145, the RPSOs  will be                                                               
fully certified police  officers:  they will  attend the academy,                                                               
they  will get  Alaska Police  Standards certification,  and they                                                               
will be full  police officers.  In response  to another question,                                                               
he said  that in comparison to  a trooper, the RPSO  will be more                                                               
attuned  to  the  smaller  area, more  familiar  with  the  local                                                               
people, and hopefully they will even be from that area.                                                                         
CHAIR    COGHILL,    after     noting    that    probation/parole                                                               
responsibilities will be  a big part of SB 145,  asked the DOC to                                                               
comment on its role regarding that provision.                                                                                   
Number 2808                                                                                                                     
CANDACE BROWER,  Program Coordinator/Legislative  Liaison, Office                                                               
of the  Commissioner, Department of Corrections  (DOC), explained                                                               
that because  of the way  in which  the pilot program  is working                                                               
with the BBNA, the DOC  envisions that this program, when applied                                                               
statewide,  will   be  very  beneficial   to  the   DOC  because,                                                               
obviously, the DOC  can not have probation officers  in all those                                                               
villages.   The provision  in SB 145  would provide  training for                                                               
the  VPSOs who  are already  located in  the villages,  and these                                                               
VPSOs would  provide an extra set  of eyes and ears.   They would                                                               
be able  to do  some of  tasks that a  probation officer  can do,                                                               
such  as get  urinalysis samples  and Breathalyzer  samples, have                                                               
probationers  and parolees  report in  to them,  and monitor  the                                                               
behavior  of the  probationers and  parolees.   In response  to a                                                               
question,  she confirmed  that when  VPSOs  have this  additional                                                               
authority they  will be given more  respect in the village.   She                                                               
noted,  however,  that the  VPSOs  would  be accountable  to  DOC                                                               
probation/parole  officers, so  the  likelihood  of VPSOs  taking                                                               
advantage of that extra authority would be minimized.                                                                           
Number 2684                                                                                                                     
JANET  PARKER,   Retirement  &  Benefits  Manager,   Division  of                                                               
Retirement  & Benefits,  Department of  Administration (DOA),  in                                                               
response  to a  question,  assured the  committee  that the  PERS                                                               
retirement provision of SB 145 can  work.  She noted that similar                                                               
programs have already  been set up.  Since the  funding is coming                                                               
from the state, there is  a connection between the government and                                                               
these  [nonprofit]  entities  and  therefore,  she  opined,  this                                                               
provision  can be  worked  out.   She  added,  however, that  the                                                               
division did  want to wait until  they received an IRS  ruling on                                                               
this issue so  as not to jeopardize  the tax-qualification status                                                               
of the program.   With regard to a timeframe  for a response, she                                                               
noted that  the division still  has to ask  for a ruling  on this                                                               
issue, but  has been told  that the  IRS is fairly  responsive to                                                               
inquiries from government agencies.                                                                                             
CHAIR  COGHILL,   after  noting   that  many  of   the  nonprofit                                                               
corporations   involved   in   the  VPSO   program   are   Native                                                               
corporations, asked  whether tribal  sovereignty would  become an                                                               
issue if SB 145 becomes law.                                                                                                    
Number 2662                                                                                                                     
KATHLEEN  STRASBAUGH,  Assistant Attorney  General,  Governmental                                                               
Affairs  Section,  Civil  Division (Juneau),  Department  of  Law                                                               
(DOL),  pointed out  that since  the  VPSO program  is already  a                                                               
cooperative  program, the  essential contract  between the  state                                                               
and the corporations isn't really going  to be changed by SB 145.                                                               
She added  that in  any discussion  with the  IRS the  state will                                                               
note both  the governmental and  nongovernmental aspects  of what                                                               
the  corporations do  and what  the  role of  the VPSO  is.   She                                                               
opined that SB  145 does not make any fundamental  changes to the                                                               
cooperative  relationship  that  the  state has  had  with  these                                                               
corporations for  years, particularly  since VPSOs can  "opt out"                                                               
of the PERS retirement program if they so choose.                                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE  JAMES said  that  her concern  is  that a  VPSO's                                                               
ability to  choose PERS will  "water down" what  the corporations                                                               
offer since retirement programs  often become stronger when there                                                               
are more participants.                                                                                                          
SENATOR  HALFORD opined  that  the number  of  VPSOs involved  is                                                               
quite small  compared to the  total number of people  involved in                                                               
nonprofit corporations' retirement  programs; therefore the VPSOs                                                               
will not have a significant effect on those retirement programs.                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  FATE,  after  noting  that only  four  RPSOs  are                                                               
funded  via   SB  145,  asked   what  future  fiscal   needs  are                                                               
anticipated.   He opined  that to have  a successful  program, in                                                               
addition to more VPSOs, more RPSOs would also be needed.                                                                        
SENATOR HALFORD explained  that the four RPSO are  the new people                                                               
in this  "baseline program," and  that although the  VPSO program                                                               
is being upgraded  as a statewide system, the  size issues beyond                                                               
this are not yet  being dealt with.  He said  that the more VPSOs                                                               
there  are,  the more  "certified  police  enforcement" would  be                                                               
needed to backup the VPSOs.   Without enough proper backup, VPSOs                                                               
are in  greater danger.   After acknowledging  that "the  need is                                                               
out there  in small communities,"  he, too, noted that  there are                                                               
about 70 communities that do not have any law enforcement.                                                                      
Number 2243                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  HAYES  moved  to  report  CSSB  145(FIN)  out  of                                                               
committee  with individual  recommendations and  the accompanying                                                               
fiscal  notes.   There  being  no  objection, CSSB  145(FIN)  was                                                               
reported from the House State Affairs Standing Committee.                                                                     

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