Legislature(2003 - 2004)
05/08/2003 09:00 AM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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 Committee. 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 retirees. 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 State. 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 positions. 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.