Legislature(2001 - 2002)

02/07/2002 08:08 AM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 314-PFD ELIGIBILITY FOR PEACE CORP VOLUNTEERS                                                                              
Number 2400                                                                                                                     
CHAIR COGHILL  brought before the  committee HOUSE BILL  NO. 314,                                                               
"An Act  relating to service in  the peace corps as  an allowable                                                               
absence from the state for  purposes of eligibility for permanent                                                               
fund dividends; and providing for an effective date."                                                                           
CHAIR   COGHILL  clarified   that   the  sponsor   of  the   bill                                                               
[Representative  McGuire] could  not  be  present; therefore,  he                                                               
asked that testimony be heard.                                                                                                  
Number 2380                                                                                                                     
DAVID MOORE,  Director, United Campus Ministry  (UCM), University                                                               
of Alaska  Fairbanks, testified via  teleconference on  behalf of                                                               
the  26  Peace  Corps  volunteers  from  Alaska.    He  told  the                                                               
committee  he  was testifying  specifically  for  Denny and  Lisa                                                               
Wells,  two   people  involved  in  UCM   between  1994-1998  and                                                               
currently serving the Peace Corps in Thailand.                                                                                  
MR. MOORE  said he'd  recently read an  article in  the Fairbanks                                                             
Daily  News-Miner   about  Peace   Corps  volunteers   acting  as                                                             
diplomats.  He  commented that he'd found it  interesting that in                                                               
the  article  U.S.  Senators,  as well  as  both  Republican  and                                                               
Democrat  Representatives,  talked  about the  benefit  of  Peace                                                               
Corps volunteering - "how it had  helped them, as well as ... the                                                               
individuals they  had worked  with in their  country, as  well as                                                               
the good things they had brought back to our country."                                                                          
MR.  MOORE noted  that  the  article also  said  more than  7,000                                                               
volunteers  are  deployed today.    He  commented that  the  word                                                               
"deploy"  is usually  used  as  a military  term.   He  indicated                                                               
President  [George  W.] Bush  wants  to  double that  number  and                                                               
nearly double  the Peace Corps  budget over the next  five years,                                                               
from $275 million  to $475 million.  Mr. Moore  stated his belief                                                               
that it is  important in [today's] world that  Alaska support its                                                               
residents who want to show the world "that we are good-natured."                                                                
MR. MOORE  stated that "the  Peace Corps  is entirely made  up of                                                               
voluntary  government  service,  just  like the  military."    He                                                               
opined that  Mr. and Ms.  Wells are both "sharp"  individuals who                                                               
chose  to serve  the nation  to make  the world  a better  place,                                                               
rather than [make money] in a  corporate world.  [The next couple                                                               
of sentences were indiscernible.]                                                                                               
CHAIR  COGHILL   asked  the  witness   to  move  closer   to  the                                                               
MR. MOORE said  Mr. and Ms. Wells have chosen  to serve the state                                                               
by   corresponding  with   the  second-grade   class  at   Hunter                                                               
Elementary School  in Fairbanks.   He  stated his  certainty that                                                               
when  they returned,  they would  share the  gifts they  received                                                               
from  the  Thai  people:    the gift  of  culture,  the  gift  of                                                               
understanding,  and the  gift of  information.   He  said he  had                                                               
personally benefited from the stories,  knowledge, and insight of                                                               
Peace  Corps volunteers;  he  shared his  belief  that many  have                                                               
benefited  from  the Peace  Corps  program,  both abroad  and  in                                                               
Alaska.    He concluded,  "I  believe  that  we should  show  our                                                               
resident Peace  Corps volunteers our  support by sharing  8 cents                                                               
apiece, so that they might have their rightful dividend."                                                                       
CHAIR COGHILL  asked Mr. Moore  to send his testimony  in writing                                                               
to the committee.                                                                                                               
Number 2245                                                                                                                     
FRANCIS  McLAUGHLIN,   Peace  Corps  Volunteer,   testifying  via                                                               
teleconference,  read   from  his  testimony  [included   in  the                                                               
committee packet], as follows:                                                                                                  
     I  would  like thank  House  members  for listening  to                                                                    
     public  comment  about  HB 314,  which  will  hopefully                                                                    
     reinclude  Peace  Corps  volunteers for  receiving  the                                                                    
     [permanent fund] dividend.                                                                                                 
     I was born  in Fairbanks Memorial Hospital  in 1977 and                                                                    
     have  been a  Fairbanks resident  all my  life.   After                                                                    
     graduating from college, I applied  and was accepted to                                                                    
     the U.S.  Peace Corps.   I did  not find out  where the                                                                    
     Peace Corps would  send me until three  months before I                                                                    
     left for my post.  The  Peace Corps placed me in a town                                                                    
     in the Central Highlands of  Guatemala.  I was the only                                                                    
     non-Guatemalan  and English-speaking  person living  in                                                                    
     Santiago Sacatepaquez.  I was  the only person that the                                                                    
     people  of  that  town will  probably  ever  meet  from                                                                    
     Alaska.  I  lived in a one-room house with  a tin roof.                                                                    
     I shared my  bathroom - a latrine -  with sixteen other                                                                    
     people.   My town  only had access  to water  for about                                                                    
     three hours a day.                                                                                                         
     While living in Santiago,  I successfully organized the                                                                    
     community  to build  a tree  nursery,  which has  since                                                                    
     produced  over 8,000  new avocado  trees for  the town.                                                                    
     All of the trees ...  are planted in fields surrounding                                                                    
     the  town, and  some are  already producing  fruit.   I                                                                    
     lived as  the people did  and worked with them  side by                                                                    
     side.  It  was a very rewarding experience  for me, and                                                                    
     I hope  that the  work I  did will  help the  people of                                                                    
     Santiago.   I know  that I will  never forget  them and                                                                    
     that they will never forget ... me.                                                                                        
     During my  first year  in Santiago,  I joined  the town                                                                    
     soccer team.   My neighbor and  fellow teammate thought                                                                    
     that it  would be funny if  he told the people  in town                                                                    
     that  I played  professional soccer  in the  U.S., even                                                                    
     though it  wasn't true.   Well, the entire  town showed                                                                    
     up at our  first soccer game to see if  I was really as                                                                    
     good  ...  as  they  had   said.    My  reputation  was                                                                    
     confirmed  when I  scored  a  left-footed shot,  placed                                                                    
     perfectly  in  the  lower-right  corner  of  the  goal,                                                                    
     within  the  first  five minutes  of  the  first  game.                                                                    
     Unfortunately,  that was  the  only goal  I scored  the                                                                    
     entire season.                                                                                                             
     I am sad to say that  when I left Fairbanks to become a                                                                    
     Peace Corps  volunteer in  Guatemala, I  was penalized.                                                                    
     While serving  two years and four  months in Guatemala,                                                                    
     I  was  ineligible  to  receive  the  [permanent  fund]                                                                    
     dividend for  two years in a  row.  I worked  very hard                                                                    
     while  working  with  the  Peace Corps  to  be  a  good                                                                    
     representative of  my family,  my community,  my state,                                                                    
     and  my country,  and to  serve rural  Mayan people  in                                                                    
     Santiago.   I  should  not have  lost  my dividend  for                                                                    
     being a Peace Corps volunteer.                                                                                             
     Everyone can come  up with a good reason  why they need                                                                    
     the dividend, and  I am no different.  I  have four ...                                                                    
     years  of Alaska  student  loans to  pay  off, and  the                                                                    
     interest on  these loans has continued  to accrue while                                                                    
     I  was  a  volunteer.    I was  allowed  to  defer  the                                                                    
     principle  of  my  Alaska student  loan,  but  not  the                                                                    
     interest.   So, my debt  has grown while I  was working                                                                    
     and earning next to nothing  as a Peace Corps volunteer                                                                    
     in Guatemala.                                                                                                              
     Why  are   the  Peace  Corps  volunteers   and  Olympic                                                                    
     athletes from  Alaska penalized for  representing their                                                                    
     state while working  abroad?  I know  that Alaskans, my                                                                    
     neighbors  here in  Fairbanks and  elsewhere throughout                                                                    
     the  state, value  public service  and  do not  believe                                                                    
     that  Peace  Corps   volunteers  and  Olympic  athletes                                                                    
     should be  penalized for  the job  that ...  we do.   I                                                                    
     believe  that   Peace  Corps  volunteers   and  Olympic                                                                    
     athletes  should receive  the dividend,  and those  who                                                                    
     have already  been stripped of  the dividend,  like me,                                                                    
     should be given it back,  retroactively.  The amount of                                                                    
     money that this  would be is very  small, because there                                                                    
     are  very  few  Peace   Corps  volunteers  and  Olympic                                                                    
     athletes from  Alaska.  Believe me,  they are deserving                                                                    
     of the dividend and need it, also.                                                                                         
MR. McLAUGHLIN  said he supported HB  314, but would like  to see                                                               
Olympic athletes  and - as soon  as the President defines  them -                                                               
Freedom Corps  volunteers [included] as  well.  He added  that he                                                               
would like Peace  Corps volunteers and Olympic  athletes who were                                                               
ineligible  over the  past three  years  to receive  [retroactive                                                               
payment of those missed permanent fund dividends].                                                                              
Number 1994                                                                                                                     
CHAIR  COGHILL  requested  that   the  witness  fax  his  written                                                               
testimony.   He said Mr.  McLaughlin brings an  interesting point                                                               
to the committee regarding the  need to [include] more people; he                                                               
said  Mr. McLaughlin  had  made a  compelling  argument "for  one                                                               
other group."   He noted  that the  bill would be  discussed when                                                               
Representative  McGuire, sponsor,  was  available.   [HB 314  was                                                               
held over.]                                                                                                                     

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