Legislature(2003 - 2004)

03/05/2003 01:30 PM HES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
              SB   8-TAMPERING WITH PUBLIC RECORDS                                                                          
              SB  55-TAMPERING WITH PUBLIC RECORDS                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MR. RICHARD BENAVIDES, staff to  Senator Bettye Davis, sponsor of                                                               
SB 8, read the following sponsor statement:                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
     The tampering of public records  at any time is illegal                                                                    
     and can create  problems and set in motion  a series of                                                                    
     unintended  consequences. However,  when the  tampering                                                                    
     involves the records of a child  under the age of 18 in                                                                    
     the care  and custody of the  state, those consequences                                                                    
     can  be grave.  While  I've  not personally  discovered                                                                    
     through my  work the instances  of this  occurring here                                                                    
     in  Alaska,  throughout  the country  caseworkers  that                                                                    
     falsify records and  fail to check on  children are not                                                                    
     new  concerns.  These issues  took  on  new meaning  in                                                                    
     light of  five-year old Lila  Wilson, a Miami  girl who                                                                    
     disappeared while in the care  of the State of Florida.                                                                    
     In  that case,  the department  is still  struggling to                                                                    
     explain  why it  failed to  check on  her properly  for                                                                    
     more than a year.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
     Accurate  and honest  record keeping  are of  paramount                                                                    
     importance to  the state in  decisions that need  to be                                                                    
     made for  our most  vulnerable children. The  mere fact                                                                    
     that these children are already  in the care or custody                                                                    
     of the  state suggests that  they must be  handled with                                                                    
     extra  care. We  must take  that extra  step to  ensure                                                                    
     that   all  records   dealing  with   their  care   are                                                                    
     maintained to the highest standards  of integrity. SB 8                                                                    
     is  designed  as  a disincentive  to  those  who  would                                                                    
     falsify these records.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR FRED DYSON  told members that, as the sponsor  of SB 55, he                                                               
was motivated  by the public  and media attention to  the Florida                                                               
case to file  a similar bill, not knowing that  Senator Davis had                                                               
already filed  one.  After filing  SB 55, he realized  it was not                                                               
specific to public  records of children and gave  some thought to                                                               
limiting the bill's scope to  only those records. He decided that                                                               
no public  records should be  altered because there are  two more                                                               
categories  of people  he is  concerned about.  He has  been told                                                               
that  Alaska  does  a  better  job  than  most  states  regarding                                                               
protection of  adults in the  prison system. Alaska has  very few                                                               
cases  of  prisoner  rape  and few  cases  of  prisoner  assault.                                                               
However, he  has heard anecdotally  that Alaska's  reputation may                                                               
not be as good as the official record indicates.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR DYSON said  he is also concerned about  disabled adults who                                                               
reside in senior centers,  particularly community based programs.                                                               
He  pointed  out  that  every legislator  has  probably  heard  a                                                               
constituent complain that a relative  was maltreated. He does not                                                               
want a  service provider's record  of maltreatment of  a disabled                                                               
adult to be covered up. For  those reasons, he chose not to limit                                                               
SB 55 to children only.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR DAVIS  asked Chair Dyson  if he investigated  whether the                                                               
affected statute applies to the records  of people who are not in                                                               
state custody.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR DYSON responded that it  is his understanding that altering                                                               
any public record,  whether a person is in custody  or not, would                                                               
be a crime.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  BETTYE  DAVIS  asked  whether  he  was  referring  to  a                                                               
different  part  of  the  statute  because  SB  8  applies  to  a                                                               
provision in statute that refers  to children in state custody or                                                               
state care.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR. BENAVIDES  said he spoke  to Ms. Carpeneti in  the Department                                                               
of Law who said there was no problem with SB 8.                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR DAVIS said she agrees  it is important to consider adults                                                               
in  custody but  she focused  on  children because  she knows  of                                                               
cases, "even here  where we don't always know  where our children                                                               
are."                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR DYSON  said he  sat with the  former commissioner  of the                                                               
Department of  Health and  Social Services  (DHSS) and  looked at                                                               
autopsy  pictures  of  children  who  had  died  while  in  state                                                               
custody. Although  he saw no  evidence of records  being changed,                                                               
had the  Division of Family  and Youth Services  (DFYS) responded                                                               
earlier to  reports of suspicion  of harm, lives could  have been                                                               
saved.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR DAVIS said she does  not believe the problem of tampering                                                               
with  records is  systemic in  Alaska as  it might  be elsewhere.                                                               
However, she  does believe that  SB 8 will provide  protection in                                                               
the future when  there may be a shortage of  workers to carry the                                                               
load and  records might  be altered to  cover problems.  She said                                                               
that she would  agree to add the public records  of adults to her                                                               
bill if doing so does not present a legal issue.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MS. JOANNE GIBBENS, program administrator  for DFYS, told members                                                               
that the department  agrees with the concept of both  SB 8 and SB                                                               
55. DHSS  agrees that any  individual who knowingly  falsifies or                                                               
tampers with the  public record of any individual in  the care or                                                               
custody of the  state should be subject to  criminal charges. She                                                               
noted  that  records  regarding  the cases  of  children  in  the                                                               
custody of  DHSS are  critical to document  the actions  taken by                                                               
department  staff,   especially  social  workers   and  probation                                                               
officers. The courts  rely on those records  to determine whether                                                               
the actions  taken are in the  best interest of the  children and                                                               
families  served.  Records  are  often subpoenaed  by  the  legal                                                               
system  and  they  hold social  workers  and  juvenile  probation                                                               
officers accountable.  She deferred to  the Department of  Law to                                                               
answer any legal questions.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  DAVIS pointed  out  that  SB 8  has  a Senate  Judiciary                                                               
Committee referral,  which is where  the legal question  could be                                                               
addressed.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR DYSON asked  Senator Davis if, aside from  the inclusion of                                                               
adults in SB 55, whether anything else should be changed.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR DAVIS said the bills  are essentially the same except for                                                               
the inclusion of adults.                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR DYSON  asked Senator Davis if  it is her intention  to have                                                               
the bill  apply to  the records  of people who  are not  in state                                                               
custody, as well as those who are.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR DAVIS said  she does not have any  problem with including                                                               
them if [there are no legal complications].                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR   DYSON  announced   a  brief   at-ease  to   wait  for   a                                                               
representative from the Department of Law.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Upon reconvening the meeting, CHAIR  DYSON asked Ms. Carpeneti if                                                               
she could  provide the committee  with a statutory  definition of                                                               
the  word "care"  and whether  it applies  to anyone  receiving a                                                               
state benefit.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
MS.  ANNE CARPENETI,  Assistant Attorney  General, Department  of                                                               
Law (DOL), told members she  would have to research that question                                                               
and could not provide an answer at this time.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR DYSON said he was thinking  about the records of people who                                                               
are not  only incarcerated or  in the  custody of DFYS,  but also                                                               
about the  records of incapacitated  adults in  treatment centers                                                               
or adults who are mentally impaired.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MS.  CARPENETI  said she  could  provide  the committee  with  an                                                               
answer by Monday.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR LYDA GREEN asked if a public record is kept on file.                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MS. CARPENETI  said that  "public record"  is defined  in statute                                                               
and that she would provide the committee with a definition.                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR   DYSON   asked   Ms.   Carpeneti   to   comment   on   the                                                               
appropriateness  of  making  tampering  with records  a  class  C                                                               
felony as opposed to a high-level misdemeanor.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
MS.  CARPENETI  said she  thought  the  crime of  tampering  with                                                               
public records is already a class  A misdemeanor. SB 8 will raise                                                               
the crime to a  class C felony. She said she did  not know if DOL                                                               
has  taken  a  position  on  whether  the  punishment  should  be                                                               
increased.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR DYSON clarified that he  would like Ms. Carpeneti to answer                                                               
the question of  whether the existing language in either  SB 8 or                                                               
SB 55  deals with a person  who is receiving a  state benefit but                                                               
may not be  in state custody. He  announced SB 8 and  SB 55 would                                                               
be heard again on Monday.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
There being  no further  business to  come before  the committee,                                                               
CHAIR DYSON adjourned the meeting at 1:55 p.m.                                                                                  

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