Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/27/2004 01:32 PM L&C

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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.                                                                              

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