Legislature(2003 - 2004)
04/27/2004 01:32 PM L&C
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 369-UNIV. STUDENT PRACTICUM LIABILITY/WAGES CHAIR CON BUNDE announced SB 369 to be up for consideration. SENATOR RALPH SEEKINS, sponsor, explained that SB 369 amends current law by exempting the University of Alaska students participating in practicum programs from state wage and hour provisions. It also provides certain protections relating to vicarious liability. The intent is to revitalize private sector involvement in this key element of the educational process. The University offers certain fields of study, which require students to achieve experience and proficiency in a real world setting before a degree can be conferred. By and large, these involve medically oriented endeavors such as the dental profession. Over the years it's become increasingly difficult for the University to entice private sector placement sites to become involved in an internship program. A legitimate concern expressed by placements sites is that absent statutory clarification, practicum students could be considered as employees with respects to certain labor laws. But of particular distress is the exposure to vicarious liability. High costs associated with potential liability have effectively chilled the private sector's willingness to be involved in vital practicum programs. SB 369 proposes a statutory fix designed to protect practicum sites interested in offering their facilities to university interns. The threshold requirement that students not be paid insures that sites will not use practicum placement immunity to take advantage of employees who are also students. From a liability perspective, this proposal is designed to leave each entity - the university, the student and the site - responsible for its own liability. MR. PETE KELLY, University of Alaska, supported Senator Seekins' comments. He added that five years ago, the legislature gave the university money over and above its operating needs and with that money it designed some hands-on training programs. Most of those require a certain amount of unpaid work - a practicum or internship. These are becoming the most popular programs within the University. As that is growing, the community is stepping up to provide those hours, but liability is a concern. SENATOR GARY STEVENS asked how many students he is talking about. MR. KELLY didn't have an exact number. SENATOR HOLLIS FRENCH said that a memo in the bill folder said the legislature should exclude practicum placements, but it's not signed or attributed to any person and asked who prepared it. MR. KELLY replied that was an analysis prepared by the University's general counsel and includes references to workers' compensation, which is not in the bill. SENATOR SEEKINS moved to pass CSSB 369(L&C) from committee with attached fiscal note and individual recommendations. SENATOR HOLLIS FRENCH objected saying: If you're working with the direction and supervision of that professor, it stands to reason that the things you're going to do are going to be things you've been instructed to do. So, if you're instructed to do something dumb or foolish or negligent and someone gets hurt badly, because of that bad instruction or your bad interpretation of that instruction, it seems to me that people shouldn't have to absorb that loss on to themselves.... It's not that citizen's fault; it's the professor's or the practicum student's.... SENATOR GARY STEVENS asked to speak with the general university counsel. From a liability perspective the proposal is designed to leave each student on a site responsible for his own liability. "So, liability isn't being avoided or ignored. The University would still be liable for any incident that could occur. Wouldn't that be true?" MR. KELLY replied that is correct. SENATOR GARY STEVENS hypothesized if the dental instructor told a student to pull a certain tooth and the student does, but it's the wrong tooth, the University would be liable. MR. KELLY replied that the dentist would be liable. If a student is hurt, he can appeal to the Workers' Compensation Board. If it decides against him, the student could sue. "Liability isn't automatically assigned to the practicum provider site as it would be in an employer employee relationship." CHAIR BUNDE said he would like to see these legal issues addressed in the Judiciary Committee. SENATOR SEEKINS, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, assured him that would be the case. CHAIR BUNDE called for the roll. Senators Ralph Seekins, Gary Stevens and Chair Con Bunde vote yea; Senator Hollis French voted nay; and CSSB 369(L&C) moved from committee.