Legislature(2003 - 2004)

05/08/2003 09:00 AM FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
     CS FOR SENATE BILL NO. 26(STA)                                                                                             
     "An Act relating to state employees who are called to active                                                               
     duty as reserve or auxiliary members of the armed forces of                                                                
     the United States; and providing for an effective date."                                                                   
This  was the first  hearing  for this  bill in  the Senate  Finance                                                            
Co-Chair Wilken  stated that this  bill "allows State employees  who                                                            
are members of a reserve  military unit and who are called to active                                                            
duty, to  receive their  previous salary  and some  or all of  their                                                            
State benefits. This provision  in law is triggered only by an order                                                            
of the Governor and is retroactive to September 11, 2001."                                                                      
SENATOR KIM ELTON, co-sponsor  of the bill with Senator Taylor, gave                                                            
two examples of the benefits  of this legislation. First, he told of                                                            
Master Sergeant  Steve Fernandez who was called from  reserve status                                                            
to serve  in the Persian  Gulf. Senator Elton  informed that  Master                                                            
Sergeant  Fernandez  received backfill  pay  and benefits  from  his                                                            
civilian  employer   Williams  Petroleum  in  North   Pole,  Alaska.                                                            
Senator  Elton  then described  the  situation  of an  Alaska  State                                                            
Trooper stationed  in Ketchikan,  who was  also called from  reserve                                                            
status,  and  the   inability  for  the  State  to  provide   salary                                                            
compensation and benefits for this employee.                                                                                    
Senator Elton  pointed out  this legislation  would not require  the                                                            
State  to  pay  these  salaries  and  benefits,   but  rather  would                                                            
authorize  the  governor  to  do  so  through  the  issuance  of  an                                                            
administrative  order.  He also indicated  that  the Governor  could                                                            
determine the extent of the backfill pay and benefits provided.                                                                 
Senator  Elton  listed  43 State  employees  enlisted  in  the  Army                                                            
National  Guard,  83 enlisted  in  the Air  National  Guard, and  12                                                            
enlisted in the State Defense Force.                                                                                            
Senator Elton  noted the Committee  considered SB 177, sponsored  by                                                            
Senator  B.  Stevens   that  extended  similar  benefits   to  State                                                            
Senator Elton also informed  that if this legislation were in effect                                                            
during the  previous year  and the Governor  had issued a  pertinent                                                            
administrative order, the  maximum cost to the State would have been                                                            
approximately  $80,000  for  the eight  State  employees  called  to                                                            
active military duty.                                                                                                           
Senator Taylor  clarified  "backfill" pay as  the difference  in the                                                            
State  employee's regular  salary and  the military  salary paid  to                                                            
that employee  while  called to active  duty. He  remarked that  the                                                            
State would  incur a savings,  as only a  portion of the  employee's                                                            
regular salary would be paid.                                                                                                   
Co-Chair  Wilken expressed  his only concern  relates to the  fiscal                                                            
impact of this legislation and that more effort is necessary.                                                                   
Co-Chair  Green  clarified  that the  Governor  may  implement  this                                                            
option  and  asked  if a  provision  exists  that  would  allow  the                                                            
Governor to rescind or  modify the administrative order in the event                                                            
that a conflict continued for an extended period of time.                                                                       
Senator Elton  assured such action  would be authorized through  the                                                            
issuance of another administrative order.                                                                                       
Senator Olson wanted to  ensure no "double dipping" would occur with                                                            
State employees  collecting a salary from both the  military and the                                                            
Senator Elton  assured this would not occur and furthered  that some                                                            
State  employees called  to  active military  duty  actually earn  a                                                            
higher  salary  for  their military  service.  He  stated  that  the                                                            
backfill pay portion  of this legislation would therefore  not apply                                                            
to these employees.                                                                                                             
Senator  Bunde requested  a  listing of  those State  employees  who                                                            
actually earn a higher salary in military service.                                                                              
Co-Chair  Wilken  suspected  pilots, colonels,  and  other  military                                                            
positions  pay   wages  higher  than  those  paid   for  many  State                                                            
Senator Elton  gave an example of  a custodian working in  the State                                                            
Capitol Building, who was  called to active military duty and paid a                                                            
higher salary.  Senator Elton emphasized that although  a cost would                                                            
be  incurred   from  this   legislation,   another  value   must  be                                                            
considered. He intended  some State employees would be encouraged to                                                            
join the military reserves and "serve their country".                                                                           
Co-Chair Wilken  noted a letter in support of this  legislation from                                                            
Julie Benson [copy on file].                                                                                                    
JULIE BENSON testified  via teleconference from Ketchikan  about the                                                            
importance  of  this legislation  to  herself  and her  husband,  an                                                            
Alaska State  Trooper and military  reservist called to active  duty                                                            
in 2002 for six  months. She informed that once called  for military                                                            
service,   her   husband's    State   benefits   were   immediately                                                             
discontinued,  resulting in  a loss of  retirement contributions  as                                                            
well  as salary  increases he  would have  received  if he  remained                                                            
employed by the State.  She furthered that when her husband returned                                                            
to State  service, his  annual salary  increase  was denied on  that                                                            
basis that he "failed to  demonstrate a greater value to the State."                                                            
She challenged  that this failure  was due to his deployment  to the                                                            
Middle East to  support for Operation Enduring Freedom.  She pointed                                                            
out that  her husband's  military  salary is not  comparable  to his                                                            
salary  as  an  Alaska   State  Trooper  and  qualified   that  they                                                            
understood  this when  he enlisted.  However, she  stated they  were                                                            
unaware that he  would not receive State salary advancements  during                                                            
his absence.                                                                                                                    
Ms. Benson  remarked that  State employees  serving in the  military                                                            
reserves  should  not be  penalized  in  this  manner, particularly                                                             
during a time  of "significant national crisis." She  commented that                                                            
under current policy, those  State employees "almost feel punished",                                                            
adding to the difficulties of being separated from family.                                                                      
Senator Taylor thanked  the witness for her efforts in bringing this                                                            
matter to the Legislature's attention.                                                                                          
Co-Chair  Wilken  thanked  the witness  and  her husband  for  their                                                            
service to the nation.                                                                                                          
Co-Chair Wilken  announced he has requested further  detail from the                                                            
Division of  Personnel, Department  of Administration regarding  the                                                            
fiscal impacts of this legislation.                                                                                             
Senator  B. Stevens reminded  the Committee  of similar legislation                                                             
relating to benefits for  retired State employees. He also supported                                                            
this bill.                                                                                                                      
Co-Chair Wilken also supported  the legislation, but stressed a need                                                            
to understand the fiscal implications.                                                                                          
Co-Chair Green  referenced an article  dated February 23,  2003 from                                                            
the Associated  Press  regarding the  State of  Tennessee  extending                                                            
similar  backfill pay  benefits for  its State  employees called  to                                                            
active military  service [copy on file]. She noted  the provision in                                                            
this program  limiting the  amount of payments  to $1,000 per  month                                                            
for each affected  employee. She suggested  this provision  could be                                                            
implemented in Alaska as well if necessary.                                                                                     
Co-Chair  Wilken told of  a married couple,  both of whom are  State                                                            
employees  called to  active military  service, and  the impacts  of                                                            
this deployment on the family.                                                                                                  
Senator  Bunde informed  he  has family  members  who  serve in  the                                                            
reserves, one of whom has  been called to active duty. Senator Bunde                                                            
remarked  that for  20  years, this  relative  has also  received  a                                                            
salary for  his military service and  therefore, the temporary  loss                                                            
of State salary is compensated.                                                                                                 
Co-Chair Wilken ordered the bill HELD in Committee.                                                                             

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