Legislature(2021 - 2022)GRUENBERG 120

04/13/2021 03:00 PM STATE AFFAIRS

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**Streamed live on AKL.tv**
        HB  55-PEACE OFFICER/FIREFIGHTER RETIRE BENEFITS                                                                    
4:33:39 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS  announced that the final  order of business                                                               
would be HOUSE BILL NO. 55,  "An Act relating to participation of                                                               
certain peace  officers and firefighters  in the  defined benefit                                                               
and  defined   contribution  plans   of  the   Public  Employees'                                                               
Retirement  System of  Alaska; relating  to eligibility  of peace                                                               
officers  and firefighters  for  medical,  disability, and  death                                                               
benefits;  relating   to  liability  of  the   Public  Employees'                                                               
Retirement  System  of Alaska;  and  providing  for an  effective                                                               
4:34:01 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS opened public testimony on HB 55.                                                                          
4:34:36 PM                                                                                                                    
ANGELINA   FRAIZE,  Communications   Officer,  Anchorage   Police                                                               
Department  Employees Association,  informed  the committee  that                                                               
this was  her twentieth year  working in Alaska  law enforcement.                                                               
She noted  that she was  grandfathered into PERS Tier  III, which                                                               
provided  a twenty-year  pension.   She  reported  that her  2017                                                               
Anchorage Police  Department academy started with  21 officers of                                                               
which  only two  were still  with the  department in  2021.   She                                                               
recounted  her experience  training  officers  and watching  them                                                               
leave after five years to work  in other states.  She said Alaska                                                               
had  many  great  selling  points  but lacked  a  pension.    She                                                               
expressed  concern  for  the  future   of  the  Anchorage  Police                                                               
Department,   as  officers   were   being   recruited  by   other                                                               
departments  after receiving  expensive training  in Alaska.   In                                                               
conclusion,  she opined  that  money was  being  wasted to  train                                                               
individuals who ended up leaving.                                                                                               
4:38:58 PM                                                                                                                    
DOUG SCHRAGE, University Fire Department,  spoke in support of HB
55.     He  informed   committee  members   that  as   a  39-year                                                               
practitioner  in  Alaska  fire   departments,  the  goal  of  his                                                               
testimony was  to share his  observations on the  outmigration of                                                               
Alaska's  firefighters.     He  indicated  that   municipal  fire                                                               
departments in Alaska had become  revolving doors and essentially                                                               
training  grounds  for fire  departments  in  other states.    He                                                               
explained  that firefighters  in Alaska  were receiving  training                                                               
and serving  out their  probationary periods;  subsequently, some                                                               
were being  recruited by fire  departments in Washington  and the                                                               
Pacific  Northwest.    Those recruitments  were  through  lateral                                                               
hires, indicating  that those out-of-state departments  saved the                                                               
cost  of  recruiting  and training.    Meanwhile,  Alaska's  fire                                                               
departments    were   recruiting,    training,   and    equipping                                                               
firefighters at  significant expense  on a  perpetual basis.   He                                                               
suggested  that   the  outmigration  "blossomed"   following  the                                                               
implementation  of Tier  IV.   He  recalled that  prior to  2008,                                                               
firefighters  leaving for  other  states  was "virtually  unheard                                                               
of."  Furthermore,  he noticed that fewer  Alaskans were applying                                                               
for firefighting  jobs in Alaska,  which he assumed was  also due                                                               
to Tier IV.  He urged  committee members to recommend a "do pass"                                                               
for the proposed legislation.                                                                                                   
4:40:55 PM                                                                                                                    
JACOB  WILSON,  Business   Agent,  Alaska  Correctional  Officers                                                               
Association (ACOA),  expressed his support  for HB 55.   He noted                                                               
that during the 10 years  he represented correctional officers in                                                               
Alaska he had  spoken with hundreds if not  thousands of officers                                                               
concerning their retirement, as well  as their reasons for coming                                                               
to/leaving  the Department  of Corrections  (DOC).   He indicated                                                               
that Alaska  was facing a  significant recruitment  and retention                                                               
crisis.  One of the root causes  of this crisis, he said, was the                                                               
defined  contribution  retirement  system and  its  inability  to                                                               
compete  with  the  benefits offered  by  other  law  enforcement                                                               
agencies around  the country.   He reported that  between January                                                               
2015 and January 2021, 652  correctional officers had left ACOA's                                                               
bargaining unit,  which was  just under 70  percent of  the total                                                               
workforce.  He explained that  every time DOC lost an experienced                                                               
officer,  the department  was forced  to  backfill that  position                                                               
with  an inexperienced  recruit,  which costed  the state  money.                                                               
Further,  when the  department was  forced to  hire over  100 new                                                               
recruits  per  year,  it systematically  compromised  safety  and                                                               
security  in the  state.   In  summary, he  asserted that  Alaska                                                               
needed to  address its  recruitment and  retention problems.   He                                                               
concluded  that  HB  55  would  be  a  huge  step  in  the  right                                                               
4:43:37 PM                                                                                                                    
COREY  LUCK, Firefighter/EMT,  Capital City  Fire/Rescue ("CCFR")                                                               
stated his  support for HB  55.  He  reported that 25  percent of                                                               
CCFR's staff was  hired prior to 2006; 50  percent were currently                                                               
eligible  for retirement  and  40 percent  would  be eligible  to                                                               
retire within  the next two  years.  Additionally, 50  percent of                                                               
CCFR's staff had  less than five years on the  job and 30 percent                                                               
of CCFR's Tier  IV employees planned on leaving in  the next five                                                               
years.  He included himself  in the latter group, explaining that                                                               
he had  been recently offered  a position with a  fire department                                                               
in  Washington with  a defined  benefit plan.   He  said, "to  be                                                               
quite  honest, it  would  be hard  to turn  that  [down] at  this                                                               
point."    He  encouraged  the committee  to  move  the  proposed                                                               
legislation forward,  later adding his belief  that public safety                                                               
in Alaska depended on it.                                                                                                       
4:45:32 PM                                                                                                                    
GERARD  ASSELIN, Deputy  Chief  of  Operations, Anchorage  Police                                                               
Department, stated  his support  for HB 55  and provided  a brief                                                               
description of his  work experience within APD.   He relayed that                                                               
demands on the  policing profession had increased,  which made it                                                               
harder to recruit and caused  officers to reevaluate their desire                                                               
to  stay.   He recounted  that police  officers had  been leaving                                                               
every month for departments across  the nation and emphasized the                                                               
loss of  productivity that occurred,  as well as the  decrease in                                                               
proficiency that came  with lack of experience.   Further, patrol                                                               
sergeants   reported  that   in  addition   to  recruitment   and                                                               
retention, the  biggest problem was  the age of officers,  as the                                                               
workforce was  skewing younger.   He indicated that  the proposed                                                               
legislation  presented   an  opportunity  to  put   Alaska  in  a                                                               
competitive   posture  to   maintain  the   best  public   safety                                                               
professionals.   He urged the  committee to support the  bill and                                                               
thanked them for their efforts on this issue.                                                                                   
4:49:23 PM                                                                                                                    
JUSTIN  MACK,  Alaska   Professional  Fire  Fighters  Association                                                               
(APFFA), indicated  that there was  widespread support for  HB 55                                                               
within APFFA.   He  explained that since  2006 when  Alaska began                                                               
placing all  new state and  municipal employees into  the defined                                                               
contribution  system known  as Tier  IV,  Alaska had  experienced                                                               
many unintended  consequences.  He said  the clearest consequence                                                               
was  the competitive  disadvantage  in  recruiting and  retaining                                                               
public safety employees.  He  stated that there was a significant                                                               
cost to  doing nothing and  reported that too many  public safety                                                               
employees had  cited "lack of  retirement" as the  primary reason                                                               
for leaving the  state.  Further, departments  across Alaska were                                                               
hiring and training officers that  had no long-term plans to stay                                                               
in the  state.  Alaska was  becoming a training ground,  he said.                                                               
He explained  that recruitment and retention  dollars were having                                                               
to be reinvested several times  over, which was wreaking havoc on                                                               
public safety  budgets.   Not only  was it  financially impacting                                                               
municipalities and  the state  but a  widening gap  in experience                                                               
was being  noticed as  well, as the  most talented  public safety                                                               
workers were leaving.   He reiterated APFFA's  strong support for                                                               
the bill.                                                                                                                       
4:52:22 PM                                                                                                                    
LIZ JONES, read the following prepared remarks on behalf of her                                                                 
husband, Jeffrey Jones:                                                                                                         
     I am  a fire  medic and have  been with  the department                                                                    
     since July of 2007 making it  14 years in a few months.                                                                    
     A  return  to  a  DB   plan  can  help  the  state  and                                                                    
     municipalities  mitigate  the   costs  associated  with                                                                    
     training  and  turnover   (indisc.)  with  existing  DB                                                                    
     In  my time  with the  department, I  received multiple                                                                    
     certifications.   I am a Fire  Officer III, Firefighter                                                                    
     II, Paramedic  - I  also have  my associates  degree in                                                                    
     paramedicine - Fire Instructor  II, CPR and multi-level                                                                    
     EMT instructor, and am the  only child passenger safety                                                                    
     technician  in Ketchikan.   This  was all  accomplished                                                                    
     with a cost  to the city.  I'm not  saying that I'm not                                                                    
     irreplaceable, but  I can tell  you, it will be  a very                                                                    
     long time and  a lot of money before  someone earns all                                                                    
     the certifications that I have.                                                                                            
     My  family is  actively searching  for a  new place  to                                                                    
     call home to a state that  has a DB program.  My family                                                                    
     has roots here  in Alaska and I don't  want to relocate                                                                    
     them,  but it  is well  known  that if  a fire  fighter                                                                    
     works after 55 it puts them  at a greater risk of dying                                                                    
     due to  line of  duty deaths, including  heart attacks.                                                                    
     I would  like to be  able to hold my  grandchildren and                                                                    
     to enjoy my retirement.                                                                                                    
     I started when  I was 28 and will  not realistically be                                                                    
     able to  retire at an  age that affords me  the ability                                                                    
     to do so.   At 58 I  will have 30 years in  my DC plan;                                                                    
     still, not  enough to  retire.  Can  you imagine  a 58-                                                                    
     year-old carrying  someone down a flight  of stairs and                                                                    
     out of  a fire? Not  saying that  it cannot be  done or                                                                    
     won't be attempted, but it  puts me, the public, and my                                                                    
     coworkers at a higher risk.                                                                                                
     The  relatively  small  increase  in the  cost  of  the                                                                    
     proposed  DB  program  is money  well  spent  when  you                                                                    
     consider the value of  retaining employees throughout a                                                                    
     career  as  opposed  to training  new  people  and  not                                                                    
     having benefits in  place to keep them.   This cycle is                                                                    
     already  happening, resulting  in the  export of  home-                                                                    
     grown  talent   to  states  with  better   options  for                                                                    
     retirees.   I encourage  you to pass  HB 55.  Thank you                                                                    
     for your time and consideration for this bill.                                                                             
4:55:32 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  KREISS-TOMKINS  closed  public  testimony  on  HB  55  and                                                               
invited questions from committee members.                                                                                       
REPRESENTATIVE TARR  said, "don't  give up on  us yet,"  to those                                                               
who were considering leaving the state.                                                                                         
REPRESENTATIVE  EASTMAN   asked  when  Tier  I   obligations  and                                                               
liabilities would be paid without  the bill compared to when they                                                               
would  be  paid  if  HB  55  were  to  pass.    Additionally,  he                                                               
questioned whether  documents had been provided  to the committee                                                               
that addressed that timeline.                                                                                                   
4:57:18 PM                                                                                                                    
ELISE  SORUM-BIRK, Staff,  Representative Andy  Josephson, Alaska                                                               
State Legislature,  on behalf of Representative  Josephson, prime                                                               
sponsor, directed  Representative Eastman to an  actuarial report                                                               
[included in  the committee packet],  which was conducted  by the                                                               
state's actuary, [Buck  Global, LLC].  She  deferred the question                                                               
to Mr.  Puckett, Division of Retirement  and Benefits, Department                                                               
of Administration (DOA).                                                                                                        
4:57:58 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS announced that HB 55 was held over.                                                                        

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
HB 5 Letters of Support (All) 4.09.2021.pdf HSTA 4/13/2021 3:00:00 PM
HB 5
HB 55 Additional Emails of Support 4.7.21.pdf HSTA 4/13/2021 3:00:00 PM
HB 55
HB 55 Additional Emails of Support 4.12.21.pdf HSTA 4/13/2021 3:00:00 PM
HB 55
HB 55 Additional Info - DPS R&R study.pdf HSTA 4/13/2021 3:00:00 PM
HB 55
HB 55 Additional Info - FY21 Cost of a New Trooper.pdf HSTA 4/13/2021 3:00:00 PM
HB 55
HB 55 Additional Info - Training Cost per APFO 3.30.21.pdf HSTA 4/13/2021 3:00:00 PM
HB 55
HB 55 Letter of Support - Munoz 4.12.21.pdf HSTA 4/13/2021 3:00:00 PM
HB 55
HB 55 Letter of Support - Schrage 2.24.21.pdf HSTA 4/13/2021 3:00:00 PM
HB 55
HB 55 Letter of Support - Stoddard 3.31.21.pdf HSTA 4/13/2021 3:00:00 PM
HB 55
HB 55 Response to Committee Questions - Miranda 4.1.21.pdf HSTA 4/13/2021 3:00:00 PM
HB 55