Legislature(2001 - 2002)

05/10/2002 05:38 PM FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
     CS FOR SENATE BILL NO. 55(STA)                                                                                             
     "An Act  relating to the Alaska  Pioneers' Home and  the Alaska                                                            
     Pioneers'  Homes  Advisory Board;  relating  to admissions  to,                                                            
     payment assistance  for, and transfers from the  home; relating                                                            
     to  housing and  services for  veterans; and  providing for  an                                                            
     effective date."                                                                                                           
This was  the second  hearing for  this bill in  the Senate  Finance                                                            
Senator  Ward  indicated  he  had prepared  no  amendments  to  this                                                            
Senator Wilken  moved to  adopt CS SB 55,  22-GS1040\J as a  working                                                            
Co-Chair Kelly objected for discussion.                                                                                         
Senator Wilken  recapped discussions  from previous hearing  whereby                                                            
he  opined  that  some  decisions  regarding   services  for  Alaska                                                            
veterans were  being made too quickly. He reminded  the Committee of                                                            
his comments that  while Alaska is the only state  without veterans'                                                            
homes, it  is also the  only state with  pioneers' homes. He  agreed                                                            
with the  premise of combining  the pioneers'  homes with  veteran's                                                            
housing; however further efforts are necessary to achieve this.                                                                 
Senator Wilken  pointed out  for example  that it remains  uncertain                                                            
whether  the State's  six  pioneer home  facilities  would meet  the                                                            
required standards for  veterans' housing. He explained that federal                                                            
requirements  prohibit  senior veterans'  care  in conjunction  with                                                            
other  veterans' services.  He furthered  that it  has been  learned                                                            
that it is  uncertain whether federal  requirements would  allow the                                                            
operation of the  pioneers' homes together with veterans'  homes. He                                                            
also stressed  that the federal  funding, which  has been a  primary                                                            
incentive for  the establishment of  veterans' homes in Alaska,  has                                                            
not been guaranteed.                                                                                                            
Senator  Wilken asserted,  "If we're  going to do  this, lets  do it                                                            
right.  Let's  step  back  for  a  moment  and  let's  look  at  the                                                            
alternatives."   He  then  directed  attention  to  a  spreadsheet,                                                             
"Alternatives",  he had distributed [copy on file],  which lists six                                                            
options: 1) Do Nothing,  which he did not anticipate would occur, 2)                                                            
Stand Alone,  and he referenced a  1992 study about the significant                                                             
expense of  constructing a stand-alone  veterans' housing  facility,                                                            
3) Convert  existing Pioneers' Home  to Veterans' Home, 4)  Separate                                                            
Pioneers'/Veterans'  Home,  dividing existing  Pioneers' homes  into                                                            
separate   wings   for   veterans   and   pioneers.    5)   Combined                                                            
Pioneers'/Veterans'  Home, similar to the current  operation, and 6)                                                            
Senator Wilken noted the  proposed committee substitute continues to                                                            
support  a proposed study  of the six  aforementioned alternatives,                                                             
encourages  negotiation   with  the federal   government  to  secure                                                            
funding  for veterans'  housing, and  allows for  the creation  of a                                                            
pilot program.                                                                                                                  
Senator Wilken  expressed his intent  to review this issue  in a few                                                            
years to determine the  option that would be in the best interest of                                                            
the  pioneers  and  the veterans.   He remarked  that  if  "tens  of                                                            
millions  of dollars"  are to  be expended,  those  funds should  be                                                            
leveraged  to best  serve  veterans, as  opposed  to implementing  a                                                            
"hurried" decision  that may be regretted  five or ten years  in the                                                            
Senator  Ward  announced  he  would  vote  to  adopt  the  committee                                                            
substitute.  He spoke to a unique  opportunity and talked  about the                                                            
patriotic aspects of supporting  veterans. He surmised that changing                                                            
the name of the  State's pioneers' homes to reflect  veterans is the                                                            
goal of the Knowles Administration.  However, he also was aware that                                                            
many  Alaskan pioneers  do  not support  changing  the  name of  the                                                            
homes. He expressed  his intent to  make any name change  contingent                                                            
upon actual receipt of  federal funds. He emphasized that he did not                                                            
want  to  loose  the  opportunity  to  receive   federal  funds  for                                                            
pioneers'  homes,  although he  relayed  that he  had  spoken to  US                                                            
Senator Ted  Stevens and did not receive  a commitment that  funding                                                            
would be forthcoming.  Senator Ward  predicted that simply  changing                                                            
the name of  the facilities would  not guarantee receipt  of federal                                                            
JIM DUNCAN, Commissioner,  Department of Administration  appreciated                                                            
the efforts of Senator  Wilken with regard to the proposed committee                                                            
substitute.  However, Mr.  Duncan pointed  out that intent  language                                                            
alone  is  inadequate  to  demonstrate   to the  federal   Veterans'                                                            
Administration, the State's  "true strong commitment" to recognizing                                                            
Alaska's  veterans  and the  intent  of accommodating   them in  the                                                            
Pioneer  Home system.  He suggested  that changing  the name  of the                                                            
Pioneer Homes would provide  a necessary "tool" in negotiations with                                                            
the  Veteran's  Administration   to secure   funding  for  veterans'                                                            
Mr. Duncan  referenced  a letter addressed  to him  from Anthony  J.                                                            
Principi, Secretary  of Veterans Affairs  dated April 2,  2002 [copy                                                            
on file.] Mr.  Duncan asserted this  letter "outlines very  clearly"                                                            
the  understanding  between  the State  and  the  federal  Veterans'                                                            
Administration  that some current federal regulations  may "cause us                                                            
some difficulty  right now" but that the federal agency  is "willing                                                            
to work  with us to overcome  that" even  if federal legislation  is                                                            
required.  He  predicted  that  federal  legislation  would  not  be                                                            
necessary, but emphasized  that the Veterans' Administration intends                                                            
to assist the  State in preserving  ownership and management  of the                                                            
unique  pioneer  home system  as  well  as seek  common  ground  for                                                            
potential demonstration projects.                                                                                               
Mr. Duncan  addressed  Senator Ward's  suggestion  of making a  name                                                            
change  contingent  upon an  agreement  between  the State  and  the                                                            
Veterans' Administration.  Mr. Duncan informed he  had not evaluated                                                            
this  proposal,  as it  had not  been previously  raised  either  in                                                            
relation to the bill or the proposed committee substitute.                                                                      
Co-Chair Kelly  pointed out that the aforementioned  letter is not a                                                            
binding document  or a  memorandum of understanding,  but rather  it                                                            
outlines a conversation held with Mr. Principi.                                                                                 
Senator Ward noted that  in negotiations between the State and local                                                            
governments, an  "intergovernmental agreement" is  used and he asked                                                            
if such an agreement would be appropriate in this situation.                                                                    
Mr. Duncan  clarified his  testimony regarding  the letter  from Mr.                                                            
Principi that  it is a "memorandum  for the record", which  outlines                                                            
the progress  to date as well as future  intentions.  He  stated the                                                            
goal of  these negotiations  is that the final  document would  be a                                                            
signed   agreement   between   the   State,   the   Pioneers'   Home                                                            
administration and the  federal Veterans' Administration, containing                                                            
the provisions of a new demonstration project.                                                                                  
Senator Hoffman requested  General Phil Oats speak to the impacts of                                                            
the proposed committee substitute.                                                                                              
PHIL OATES, Adjutant  General, Commissioner, Department  of Military                                                            
and Veterans Affairs,  "truly believed" in Senator  Wilken's support                                                            
for veterans  and pioneers;  however, cautioned  that the  committee                                                            
substitute  would not accomplish the  intended goals. General  Oates                                                            
explained  the  two  issues at  hand:  a  name to  indicate  that  a                                                            
facility is a  home for veterans, and a priority given  to veterans.                                                            
He stated  that Senator  Ward's  suggestion regarding  a  contingent                                                            
name change  is "creative"  and could possibly  be implemented  in a                                                            
manner  that would  preserve the  identity of  the Alaska  Pioneers'                                                            
Homes.  General  Oates  also suggested  operating  under  two  names                                                            
within one structure  as an alternative. He stated  that instituting                                                            
a "percentage  preference"  of the number  of veterans' admitted  to                                                            
the pioneers'  homes would comply  with the Veterans Administration                                                             
requirements and  would be consistent with veterans'  homes in other                                                            
states.  He  clarified  that  the  State must  "take  the  steps  to                                                            
establish"  veterans'  housing, then  the  Veterans' Administration                                                             
assistance  would   follow.  He  spoke  of  calculating   population                                                            
percentages  to determine the number  of veterans given preference.                                                             
Co-Chair  Kelly noted  that because  of the limited  amount of  time                                                            
remaining in the legislative  session, significant changes could not                                                            
be  made to  this  bill.   He  recommended  passing this  bill  from                                                            
Committee  at this  hearing  and suggested  Senator  Ward work  with                                                            
Representative Coghill.                                                                                                         
Senator  Wilken   recalled  the  State   approached  the   Veterans'                                                            
Administration  with the intent to  offer long-term care  housing to                                                            
veterans. He surmised  that because the State does  not "jump ahead"                                                            
and change  the name of  the pioneers' homes,  the argument  is made                                                            
that  the  State   is  failing  to  demonstrate  a  commitment.   He                                                            
emphasized this  committee substitute provides that  the State would                                                            
expend $250,000 to conduct  a mandated report of the alternatives to                                                            
be  presented  to the  next  Legislature.  He  did not  predict  the                                                            
federal government would deny funding in this situation.                                                                        
Senator  Hoffman agreed with  Co-Chair Kelly  that this legislation                                                             
must  be sent  to the House  of  Representatives.  He disagreed  the                                                            
matter should  be held  until the next  legislative session  because                                                            
many  current legislators  might  no longer  be in  office. He  also                                                            
pointed out  a new gubernatorial administration  would be  in office                                                            
and that priorities might be different.                                                                                         
Co-Chair Kelly  directed the Committee to address  discussion to the                                                            
motion to adopt the committee substitute.                                                                                       
Senator   Ward  suggested   the   Committee  adopt   the   committee                                                            
substitute,  but stressed the final  version of this bill  must have                                                            
the unanimous support of all legislators.                                                                                       
Senator Wilken remarked  that it is irrelevant who holds legislative                                                            
office during  the next session. He deferred the decision  to future                                                            
lawmakers, predicting they would make the "right decision."                                                                     
Senator Olson objected to adoption of the committee substitute.                                                                 
A  roll  call  was taken  on  the  motion  to  adopt  the  committee                                                            
substitute as a working draft.                                                                                                  
IN FAVOR: Senator  Ward, Senator Wilken, Senator Austerman,  Senator                                                            
Green and Co-Chair Kelly                                                                                                        
OPPOSED: Senator Hoffman, Senator Leman and Senator Olson                                                                       
ABSENT: Co-Chair Donley                                                                                                         
The motion PASSED (5-3-1)                                                                                                       
The committee substitute was ADOPTED as a working draft.                                                                        
Senator Ward "moved  committee substitute for Senate  Bill number 55                                                            
out of Committee  with individual  recommendations and accompanying                                                             
Senator  Austerman  pointed  out  the  committee   substitute  would                                                            
require amended fiscal notes.                                                                                                   
Senator  Ward amended  his motion  to stipulate,  "Revised notes  is                                                            
what I meant to say; revised accompanying notes."                                                                               
Senator  Wilken offered  to work with  Senator Ward  to address  the                                                            
concerns raised.                                                                                                                
Co-Chair Kelly  summarized the Committee's intent  to pass this bill                                                            
to the  House of  Representatives.  He warned  that "political  hay"                                                            
must not be  made of this action,  "because it could be killed  like                                                            
that [snap fingers]."                                                                                                           
Senator  Leman commented,  "I had  heard some  things earlier  today                                                            
that give me  hope that we could maybe  reach something this  year."                                                            
He explained  this  pertained  to the  proposal of  a demonstration                                                             
project, different from  that contained in the committee substitute.                                                            
 He expressed he is not  concerned that the name change must be made                                                            
this year  and predicted  that if and when  an agreement is  reached                                                            
with the Veterans'  Administration, the name of the  pioneers' homes                                                            
could be changed.                                                                                                               
Co-Chair  Kelly  noted  public  testimony  was taken  on  this  bill                                                            
earlier in the day.                                                                                                             
GARY BERRY, American Legion,  testified that the Committee has "lost                                                            
sight"   of  the   issue.   He  asserted   that   Alaska   veterans'                                                            
organizations  did not "ask for very  much" of the Legislature  this                                                            
session and listed five  items including a pioneer/veterans home and                                                            
a veterans'  home study.  He spoke  of his efforts  in lobbying  the                                                            
Legislature for  the past ten years, during which  time "nothing has                                                            
happened."  He noted  two  other veterans'  home  studies have  been                                                            
undertaken  already but have had no  result. He charged that  one of                                                            
the studies was conducted by the State and was biased.                                                                          
Co-Chair  Kelly  assured  the Committee's  action  in  adoption  the                                                            
committee  substitute  is  "a  step  in  the  right  direction."  He                                                            
explained the process of  passing legislation through both bodies of                                                            
the Legislature  before a session adjourns. He assured  the specific                                                            
language  contained  in the  committee  substitute  would likely  be                                                            
Senator Hoffman  informed that if  the language were not  amended he                                                            
would probably vote against the legislation.                                                                                    
GENE DALL, Legislative  Officer, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5559,                                                            
testified about  the approximately  100 beds in the pioneers'  homes                                                            
that have  remained empty  for four  or five years.  He warned  that                                                            
with budget reductions,  an additional ten beds would  become empty.                                                            
He  told of  waiting  lists and  the  need for  funds  to staff  the                                                            
Mr. Dall asserted that  action to create long-term care for veterans                                                            
in Alaska must occur while  US Senator Ted Stevens is in office. Mr.                                                            
Dall  recalled  a speech  made  by  Senator Stevens  to  the  Alaska                                                            
Legislature  in which  he indicated  his support  of this bill.  Mr.                                                            
Dall  stressed  that Senator  Stevens  has  the necessary  clout  to                                                            
secure  federal  funding  and told  of  the numerous  congressional                                                             
actions  taken   by  Senator  Stevens  on  behalf   of  the  various                                                            
organizations  Mr. Dall represents.  He avowed  of Senator  Stevens,                                                            
"If he says  he'll do it, he'll do  it, and he wouldn't say  he'd do                                                            
it if he couldn't do it."                                                                                                       
There was no  objection and CS SB  55 (FIN) with forthcoming  fiscal                                                            
notes  MOVED from  Committee.  [Note: Fiscal  notes  for the  Senate                                                            
Finance committee  substitute were not produced as  the Senate Rules                                                            
Committee adopted a committee substitute.]                                                                                      

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