Legislature(2001 - 2002)
01/24/2002 03:34 PM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 235-EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT ASSISTANCE COMPACT WAYNE RUSH from the division of emergency services in the Department of Military Affairs informed the committee he is the homeland security coordinator for the department. CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT asked Mr. Rush if he was going to address the bill in general and highlight the amendments afterwards. MR. RUSH replied he would prefer to address the bill in general then allow Mr. Mike Mitchell with the Department of Law to address the specifics. He explained SB 235 appeals the outdated interstate civil defense and disaster compact, which is currently contained in AS 26.23.120 and replaces it with the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC). This is a more current and universally accepted agreement that facilitates disaster assistance among member states. Additionally, SB 235 updates AS 23.30.244 to provide worker compensation to disaster volunteers who perform duties in another state under EMAC and those who perform duties in Alaska under the division of emergency services. EMAC allows states to assist one another during times of emergency by sending personnel and equipment for disaster relief. It establishes a legal foundation for EMAC requests to be legally binding so that a state that asks for help is responsible for reimbursing all out of state costs and is liable for out of state personnel. Those states that send aid are protected against incurring any associated financial burden or obligation. It is also made clear that EMAC member states are not required to send assistance if their resources and circumstances don't allow them to do so. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Governor's Association, Western Governor's Association, the National Guard and a number of other organizations endorse the Congressionally approved EMAC and 41 states are members. Although Alaska is capable of handling many emergencies, there are times when disasters exceed local and state resources and outside assistance is required. Typically this assistance comes from federal agencies through FEMA but disasters that don't qualify for a presidential disaster declaration are not eligible. In those instances, EMAC would step in and provide a means to receive interstate assistance. Even when federal assistance is merited, EMAC assistance may be more readily available and cost effective or it may be supplemental to federal assistance. SENATOR PHILLIPS asked for the history of EMAC. MR. RUSH replied it began as an association of southern states in 1996. SENATOR PHILLIPS then asked why Alaska hasn't already joined EMAC. MR. RUSH said the process was begun some time ago but wasn't high priority until after the September 11 attack occurred. Also, Alaska has been a member to the mutual aid agreement called the Pacific Northwest Emergency Management Arrangement since 1994 and that has provided some measure of security. In addition to Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, British Columbia and the Yukon are members. However, in light of the terrorist attack on September 11, the scope of protection should be expanded. CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT observed the majority of the text in the bill deals with EMAC while section 5 deals with repeal of existing sections of AS 26. He then asked if there were any other questions. SENATOR STEVENS asked for an explanation of the reimbursement mechanism between states specifically when federal disaster aid is not merited. MR. RUSH responded that the state that requests assistance would reimburse the state that provides assistance, "so by signing the agreement ahead of time, this then becomes a legal document and the mechanisms for that don't have to be worked out during the throes of a disaster." SENATOR STEVENS asked if payment comes after the assistance is provided. MR. RUSH said that is correct. CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT clarified that a member state governor who requests assistance would know that payment is obligatory and that negations would not be necessary. SENATOR STEVENS asked if the agreement is open ended. MR. RUSH responded there would be no cost incurred unless a disaster occurs and assistance is requested from another state or if another state requests assistance from Alaska. SENATOR STEVENS asked if it is entirely at the discretion of the governor to provide the requested assistance. MR. RUSH said, "If available, the governor could agree to provide the assistance that's requested." CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT then asked for an explanation of the worker compensation section. MR. RUSH explained that AS 23.30.244 currently says an Alaskan resident that is temporarily engaged in a civil defense or disaster relief function in another state or country is considered an employee of the State of Alaska under the current interstate civil defense compact, 26.23.130. This is both vague and general and the change makes the law more explicit. It says that residents of Alaska who are volunteers serving in another state or country and suffer injury or death may receive compensation if they are members of a state certified defense force that is registered with the division of emergency services. In addition, they must be providing services under the provisions of EMAC and not otherwise covered. Those volunteers that are residents of Alaska and serving in the state who suffer death or injury must be registered, not otherwise covered, serving under a state disaster declaration and not be an employee of state federal or local government. The proposed legislation better protects both the individual and the state by clearly defining the conditions of eligibility for injury and death benefits for disaster volunteers that are serving either in or out of state. CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT commented the control mechanism comes from linking a state resident that is serving out of state to the EMAC. Also, anyone volunteering to help on a disaster must be part of a state-certified emergency force whose services were requested. He asked whether the wording on page 2, line 9 that says, "(1) the volunteer is an active roster civilian volunteer member of an emergency service organization…" is tight enough so all will know they must be performing duties under the auspice of that organization. He gave an example of a registered Red Cross volunteer moving on to lend aid in an area for which they aren't specifically assigned or authorized. If injured, would this person be covered because they are on the active duty membership list? MR. MITCHELL, Department of Law, responded via teleconference and said the question is valid; it is unclear whether it is services at the direction of the division of emergency services or simply services in the course of the disaster emergency. CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT thought it should be clear that individuals would be covered when they are working under the auspices of a bona fide emergency services organization and they are performing duties they have been tasked to do. Duties an individual may decide to do on their own are not covered. He thought (1) and (2) could be reworded to make that more clear. MR. MITCHELL agreed they could work together to modify the language. SENATOR PHILLIPS asked whether the Pacific Northwest Management Arrangement member states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho are members of EMAC. MR. RUSH said Washington and Idaho are members and Oregon is not. SENATOR PHILLIPS asked how that fit with EMAC plans. MR. RUSH replied one of the provisions of EMAC is there may be supplementary agreements that EMAC neither negates nor prohibits. SENATOR PHILLIPS asked whether Oregon is in the process of joining. MR. RUSH didn't have an answer. SENATOR PHILLIPS asked how membership with British Columbia and Yukon would affect EMAC. MR. RUSH said the relationship would not be affected. Under the existing agreement, Alaska would be able to provide assistance to British Columbia and the Yukon. CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT observed the fiscal note indicates no new expense associated with the new compact and, due to clarification, he thought there might be the potential for fewer worker compensation claims. He asked whether the state is self insured for such claims under the current system or does it pay into the current worker compensation system. MR. RUSH said he wasn't qualified to answer that question. CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT said he could get clarification on that before the next hearing. He asked Mr. Mitchell to address the technical amendments. MR. MITCHELL said the first technical amendment refers to page 2, line 13. Following "under" insert "AS 26.20.040 or." There are two separate emergency response chapters in the statutes. AS 26.20 provides for civil defense response and AS 26.23 provides for disaster response. The second amendment refers to page 9, line 30. Following "chapter" delete ", other than AS 26.23.136 [AS 26.23.130]," and insert "[, OTHER THAN AS 26.23.130]," The old compact would be repealed by this bill but the new EMAC would apply in case of civil defense emergencies. CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT asked for clarification on the second amendment. He thought the current wording put in the new section AS 26.23.136, which is the new language referring to the compact and drops the old statutory reference, which is the section that is deleted by Section 5. MR. MITCHELL said that is how the bill is written and the result of that would be that EMAC would not apply in disasters under AS 26.23 and this is directly contrary to what they are trying to accomplish. They want it to apply in disasters, which is why they need the technical amendment. CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT announced they would be working with the department to incorporate the amendments into a proposed CS on the bill. SENATOR PHILLIPS asked if the other 41 states are using this same model for their agreement. MR. RUSH said other states have adopted the model but he would need to find out what small changes they have made. SENATOR PHILLIPS wanted to make sure that Alaska's unique geographic needs and conditions are met. MR. RUSH said he would address the question. SENATOR STEVENS asked how many states have signed since September 11. MR. RUSH didn't know the exact number, but New York State has since signed. MR. MITCHELL added that according to the web site, there are 44 states that have signed with New Jersey, New York and Michigan signing after September 11. He also pointed out that the site www.nemaweb.org offers some background information on the EMAC. There were no further questions or individuals to testify. CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT held SB 235 in committee.