Legislature(2011 - 2012)SENATE FINANCE 532

01/31/2012 09:00 AM FINANCE


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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
+= SB 70 ALASKA HEALTH BENEFIT EXCHANGE TELECONFERENCED
Heard & Held
+ SB 13 WAIVE PARK FEE FOR DISABLED VETERANS TELECONFERENCED
Heard & Held
+ SB 62 CIVIL LEGAL SERVICES FUND TELECONFERENCED
Heard & Held
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
SENATE BILL NO. 62                                                                                                            
     "An Act allowing appropriations to the civil legal                                                                         
     services fund from court filing fees."                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
9:24:50 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Senator  McGuire stated  that although  the constitution  did                                                                   
not provide a  dedicated fund [for the Alaska  Legal Services                                                                   
Corporation],  the civil legal  services fund  was set  up to                                                                   
allow  for appropriations  and deposits  by the  legislature.                                                                   
SB 62  added language  to existing  statute that would  allow                                                                   
the legislature  to appropriate  up to  25 percent  of filing                                                                   
fees  paid to  the Alaska  Court System  during the  previous                                                                   
fiscal year into the civil legal  services fund. Alaska Legal                                                                   
Services Corporation (ALSC) was  a nonprofit association that                                                                   
helped seniors, children, and  any Alaskan that was below 125                                                                   
percent  of  the   Alaska  poverty  ceiling.   She  drew  the                                                                   
committee's  attention to  a letter  in the  packet from  the                                                                   
Alaska  Commission  on Aging  and  stated that  seniors  were                                                                   
especially susceptible to fraud  and identity theft, and that                                                                   
they  needed  help  from  the   ALSC  with  guardianship  and                                                                   
conservatorship  issues. Due  to  lack of  funding, ALSC  was                                                                   
only able  to help 1  out of every  5 people who  called them                                                                   
for  assistance.   She  mentioned   the  governor's   "choose                                                                   
respect" campaign regarding domestic  violence and referenced                                                                   
a letter  in the packet from  the Alaska Network  on Domestic                                                                   
Violence &  Sexual Assault (ANDVSA).  The letter  from ANDVSA                                                                   
showed that  women who choose  to leave an abusive  situation                                                                   
often did  not have  the resources  to seek legal  assistance                                                                   
and they  came to  ALSC for  help with  things like  custody,                                                                   
temporary  housing,  or lease  issues;  the current  lack  of                                                                   
funding  forced ALSC  to turn  away many  of those  families.                                                                   
She  stressed that  children were  present in  80 percent  of                                                                   
the  households that  had  come to  ALSC  for assistance  and                                                                   
stated that  the legislation and  ALSC's cause  was important                                                                   
to her.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
9:27:35 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Senator McGuire  stated that currently,  ALSC had  offices in                                                                   
Anchorage,  Bethel,  Dillingham,  Fairbanks,  Juneau,  Kenai,                                                                   
Ketchikan,  Kotzebue, Nome,  and Palmer;  there were  only 20                                                                   
attorneys  servicing those locations.  Appropriations  to the                                                                   
ALSC from the legislature  were at an all-time high  in FY 84                                                                   
at  $1.2 million,  but  funding had  since  dwindled to  just                                                                   
over $350,000.  She  spoke of  her efforts  over 12 years  in                                                                   
the legislature  to get  consistent funding  back into  ALSC.                                                                   
She  stated  that ALSC  also  assisted  the court  system  by                                                                   
streamlining  the process  and  saving costs.  When  Alaskans                                                                   
come in  to court without legal-council  they end up  being a                                                                   
drain on  the legal  system. The bill  added to the  existing                                                                   
Title   37   language   and  would   give   the   legislature                                                                   
discretionary power  to appropriate  any funds it  so desired                                                                   
from the general  fund to the civil legal services  fund, but                                                                   
it also  allowed for  an amount  from the  general fund  that                                                                   
was up  to 25 percent  of the filing  fees received  from the                                                                   
Alaska Court System  to be deposited into the  fund. In 2011,                                                                   
the court  fees totaled $2.6669  million; 25 percent  of that                                                                   
figure would  be $666,725. She  stated that an  appropriation                                                                   
under the  operating budget would  be required, but  that the                                                                   
consistent funding would "build the office back up again".                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Senator Olson  queried how many  more lawyers  the additional                                                                   
funding  would  provide.  Senator McGuire  stated  that  ALSC                                                                   
wanted more  lawyers, but that  they had not yet  allocated a                                                                   
specific  amount for  that purpose.  She  deferred to  Nikole                                                                   
Nelson for further explanation.                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
9:30:38 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair  Stedman  discussed  a  zero fiscal  note  from  the                                                                   
Department of Law,  a zero fiscal note from  the Alaska Court                                                                   
System,   and  an   indeterminate   fiscal   note  from   the                                                                   
Department of Administration, Office of Public Advocacy.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
NIKOLE  NELSON,  EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR,  ALASKA  LEGAL  SERVICES                                                                   
CORPORATION,  responding to  an earlier  question by  Senator                                                                   
Olson,  stated that  ALSC anticipated  that  the filing  fees                                                                   
would  represent  about  a 20  percent  budget  increase  and                                                                   
would enable  them to  serve an  additional 500 families.  In                                                                   
response  to an  earlier  question,  she stated  that  ALSC's                                                                   
attorneys  cost about  $77,000  per year  and indicated  that                                                                   
this  was about  nine  attorneys. ALSC  was  a nonprofit  law                                                                   
firm that had been  doing business in Alaska for  the last 40                                                                   
years and had made  a big difference in the lives  of the low                                                                   
income  community. In  the last  year  ALSC had  been on  the                                                                   
forefront  of the  fight against  domestic  violence and  had                                                                   
served  over  550 victims;  78  percent  of these  cases  had                                                                   
children in the  household. ALSC was the largest  provider of                                                                   
civil legal  services to victims  of domestic  violence. Over                                                                   
the  last year  ALSC had  helped 600  seniors with  financial                                                                   
and  physical   abuse  issues,  wills,  probates,   Power  of                                                                   
Attorney issues, and  other end of life aging  issues. In the                                                                   
prior year  ALSC had also  assisted 300 disabled  individuals                                                                   
gain  access  to  healthcare  coverage  and  social  security                                                                   
benefits, and  prevented homelessness for over  350 families.                                                                   
She related ALSC's  dedication to providing service  to rural                                                                   
Alaska  and stated  that  over 40  percent  of their  clients                                                                   
were in  rural Alaskan communities.  Over the past  year ALSC                                                                   
had  provided direct  representation to  over 2500  families,                                                                   
served   "countless"   individuals  through   their   website                                                                   
materials,  and  had  nearly 2000  individuals  attend  their                                                                   
clinics. She  indicated that  ALSC staff  was paid  way below                                                                   
the market  rate. She stated  that a staff attorney  starting                                                                   
for  their firm  in Anchorage  would make  about $38,000  per                                                                   
year,  while  a  first  year  attorney  general  or  district                                                                   
attorney  made about  $68,000 per  year. She  said that  ALSC                                                                   
had  a  strong  base  of  volunteer  attorneys,  a  volunteer                                                                   
board,  as well  as widespread  community  support and  local                                                                   
financial  contributions  which  helped ALSC  "stretch  their                                                                   
dollars".                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
9:34:30 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Ms. Nelson  stated  that the "bad  news" was  that the  prior                                                                   
year  ALSC had  turned  away hundreds  of  families who  were                                                                   
seeking  help  regarding  issues  like  abuse,  losing  their                                                                   
homes,  and healthcare  access;  the cases  were turned  away                                                                   
not  because they  lacked  merit, but  because  ALSC did  not                                                                   
have  the staff  and  resources to  help.  She reported  that                                                                   
ALSC  was a  very effective  organization and  that they  had                                                                   
been successful  in 96  percent of the  cases where  they had                                                                   
represented  victims of  domestic violence.  She related  how                                                                   
heartbreaking it  was to turn people away from  services when                                                                   
it was  known that ALSC was  so effective and  that attorneys                                                                   
could  be hired  well below  the market  rate. ALSC's  client                                                                   
base had  been growing  each year  and funding  had not  kept                                                                   
pace.  There were  an  estimated  88,000 Alaskans  living  in                                                                   
poverty  and an  Alaska Supreme  Court  task force  estimated                                                                   
that  of the  88,000 impoverished  Alaskans,  33,000 of  them                                                                   
would  encounter a  civil legal  need  in a  given year.  She                                                                   
stated that  the "indicators  were grim"  and urged  the need                                                                   
to bridge  the gap  between those  who had  access to  ALSC's                                                                   
services and  those who were able  to get them.  She believed                                                                   
that  SB 62 would  go a  "long way"  to bridging  the gap  by                                                                   
allowing the legislature  to appropriate up to  25 percent of                                                                   
the Alaska Court System's filing fees to ALSC.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
NANCY   MEADE,   GENERAL  COUNCIL,   ALASKA   COURT   SYSTEM,                                                                   
introduced herself for the record.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair  Stedman  queried  if  the  filing  fees  that  were                                                                   
collected  were general  funds.  Ms. Meade  responded in  the                                                                   
affirmative  and that  the filing  fees  were deposited  into                                                                   
the general  fund. Co-Chair Stedman  clarified that  the fees                                                                   
were already  general funds  and were  being used as  general                                                                   
funds. Ms. Meade stated that he was correct.                                                                                    
9:37:43 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
FREDRICK NIELSEN,  DILLINGHAM (via teleconference),  spoke in                                                                   
support  of SB  62 and  related  a personal  story about  how                                                                   
ALSC helped him save his house and property.                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
SUNNY  RADEBAUGH,  WASILLA  (via  teleconference),  expressed                                                                   
support  of SB 62  and spoke  about how  ALSC had helped  her                                                                   
deal with a permanent disability and other issues.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
9:40:59 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
NANCY   TEITJE,  KETCHIKAN   (via   teleconference),   voiced                                                                   
support of SB  62 and spoke about the services  ALSC provided                                                                   
for seniors.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
9:44:30 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
FRANCES  DEGNAN, UNALAKLEET  (via  teleconference),  stressed                                                                   
her  support  of  SB  62  and  observed  the  need  for  more                                                                   
lawyers. She  related how necessary  ALSC's services  were to                                                                   
the remote communities of Alaska.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
PEGGY  BROCKMAN, ANCHORAGE  (via  teleconference),  expressed                                                                   
support of  SB 62 and  told a personal  story about  how ALSC                                                                   
had helped her resolve two legal issues.                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
9:49:03 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MONICA M  LOONEY, ANCHORAGE  (via teleconference),  testified                                                                   
in  support of  SB 62.  She related  a  personal story  about                                                                   
being abused  by her  husband and how  ALSC had assisted  her                                                                   
with  a divorce,  child  custody,  and a  long-term  violence                                                                   
protective order.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
9:51:58 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
SB  62   was  HEARD  and   HELD  in  committee   for  further                                                                   
consideration.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
SB 70 - ADN Article.pdf SFIN 1/31/2012 9:00:00 AM
SB 70
SB 70 - Letters Of Support.pdf SFIN 1/31/2012 9:00:00 AM
SB 70
SB 70 - Explanation of Changes.pdf SFIN 1/31/2012 9:00:00 AM
SB 70
SB 70 - Houston Chronicle Article.pdf SFIN 1/31/2012 9:00:00 AM
SB 70
SB 70 - NCSL Article.pdf SFIN 1/31/2012 9:00:00 AM
SB 70
SB 70 - Sectional.pdf SFIN 1/31/2012 9:00:00 AM
SB 70
SB 70 Sen. French Response to Questions 040111.pdf SFIN 1/31/2012 9:00:00 AM
SB 70
SB 13 - CS Sponsor Statement.pdf SFIN 1/31/2012 9:00:00 AM
SB 13
SB 13 - Explanation of Changes.pdf SFIN 1/31/2012 9:00:00 AM
SB 13
SB 13 - Support Documents-State Park Fees.pdf SFIN 1/31/2012 9:00:00 AM
SB 13
SB 13 -CS Sectional.pdf SFIN 1/31/2012 9:00:00 AM
SB 13
SB 13 Support Documents-State Parks ADA Facilities.pdf SFIN 1/31/2012 9:00:00 AM
SB 13
SB 62 abada letter of support.pdf SFIN 1/31/2012 9:00:00 AM
SB 62
SB 62 ACoA Support.pdf SFIN 1/31/2012 9:00:00 AM
SB 62
SB 62 ANDVSA letter of support.PDF SFIN 1/31/2012 9:00:00 AM
SB 62
SB 62 Letter of Support.pdf SFIN 1/31/2012 9:00:00 AM
SB 62
SB 62 sponsor statement.pdf SFIN 1/31/2012 9:00:00 AM
SB 62