Legislature(2001 - 2002)

04/18/2002 03:40 PM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
                                                                                                                                
         SB  55-PIONEERS' AND VETERANS' HOME/ADVISORY BD                                                                    
                                                                                                                              
CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT asked Commissioner  Duncan to take the witness                                                              
stand. He  called attention to the  letters from the  Secretary of                                                              
Veterans  Affairs,   Anthony  J.  Principi.  The   packets  had  a                                                              
memorandum that  didn't go as far  as he would have liked,  but it                                                              
does talk about agreeing to work  to find solutions to issues that                                                              
existing  policies  may  create   for  veterans  who  qualify  for                                                              
assistance  but do  not  fit within  the  state administration  in                                                              
eligibility  standards.   They  would  try  to   work  within  the                                                              
parameter of state statutes with  regard to eligibility for living                                                              
in the  homes and, if  necessary, they  would develop a  waiver or                                                              
federal legislation  to modify the federal program  so funds could                                                              
flow to individual  veterans living at a home and  not directly to                                                              
the home.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
He explained  his proposed CS was  drafted so that the  name would                                                              
not change  at this point because  they aren't sure  the mechanism                                                              
will work. The  department wanted it put in regulation  that 20 or                                                              
21 percent of  the available beds would be allocated  to veterans.                                                              
On  page 2,  lines 17-20  it  is made  clear  that the  cap is  21                                                              
percent in all the  homes together and no more than  30 percent of                                                              
the beds in one home may be filled by veterans.                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
Section 1 comes from the department's  original bill. Sections 3-7                                                              
are  to clean  up  the original  statutes  and  codify changes  in                                                              
federal regulations  and codes by bringing current  statutes up to                                                              
date.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
JIM  DUNCAN, Commissioner  of  the Department  of  Administration,                                                              
said that since  the last hearing on this bill, they  have been in                                                              
contact with Secretary Principi to  get a better definition of how                                                              
the demonstration  program might  work. There  is a memorandum  of                                                              
agreement between Marsha Goodwin,  Secretary Principi's designated                                                              
contact  person,  Jim  Kohn,  director  of  the  Alaska  Longevity                                                              
Program and John Tabor from the Governor's  Office. The memorandum                                                              
specifies  the parameters  of the program,  but their  discussions                                                              
are  ongoing. It  may  require a  waiver or  a  change in  federal                                                              
statute and  regulation; the goal is  to address the needs  of the                                                              
veterans  while  preserving the  ownership  and  authority of  the                                                              
state to operate and manage the program.                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
The following are his comments on the committee substitute (CS):                                                                
                                                                                                                                
    · Putting the preference in statute is acceptable to the                                                                    
      department.  They never  intended to  exceed the  collective                                                              
      total of 21  percent of the available beds  for veterans and                                                              
      the 30  percent limit in any  one home causes  no difficulty                                                              
      either.                                                                                                                   
    · There is still interest in the name change, which was a                                                                   
      part of the original bill. He understood the reason for                                                                   
      deleting it in the CS, but there is interest in pursuing                                                                  
      the change as the legislation moves forward.                                                                              
    · The CS deleted the requirement that one of the two members                                                                
      of the newly created board would be the chairman of the                                                                   
      Alaska Veterans Advisory Committee (AVAC). Because there                                                                  
      are other options available for AVAC to be represented on                                                                 
      the board that's also workable.                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
Commissioner Duncan  said there was no mention of  a study to look                                                              
at the unmet  needs of veterans in the original  bill because last                                                              
year that  was submitted as a  separate item in the  Department of                                                              
Military  and  Veterans  Affairs   budget.  They  decided  it  was                                                              
preferable to package  it with SB 55 so he submitted  an amendment                                                              
that would  authorize a  survey of the  housing and care  needs of                                                              
veterans in  the state that  are not  met by the Alaska  Pioneers'                                                              
and Veterans' Home. The department  would report their findings to                                                              
the Governor  and the Legislature no  later than the first  day of                                                              
the  second  regular  session of  the  Twenty-Third  Alaska  State                                                              
Legislature.  They   projected  the  cost  of  the   study  to  be                                                              
$250,000.00.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT noted the cost  of the study was approximately                                                              
one  half the  cost of  a similar  study  funded by  the State  of                                                              
Washington. He  asked whether  the results of  the study  would be                                                              
the basis for  the state going forward to establish  a stand alone                                                              
veteran's home  or dedicated veteran's  wings that could  be added                                                              
to the homes.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
COMMISSIONER DUNCAN  wasn't sure what the result would  be, but it                                                              
would provide an answer as to whether  they needed to do something                                                              
further  to meet  the  needs of  the  veterans.  The Governor  did                                                              
submit a  certificate of participation  request for $4  million in                                                              
the deferred maintenance  package, which would be  the state match                                                              
to any federal dollars.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT looked for the original fiscal note.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
COMMISSIONER  DUNCAN referred him  to the  revised fiscal  note on                                                              
the original bill dated 1/15/02.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT said in developing  the pilot program there is                                                              
a request  to open  the additional  beds, but  there are  about 90                                                              
veterans who may qualify for the  developing program who currently                                                              
reside in the homes.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
COMMISSIONER  DUNCAN agreed  there are  95 veterans  in the  homes                                                              
now.                                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT  said the  program could  be developed  in the                                                              
hope  that  the  federal  (VA)  funds  become  available  for  the                                                              
veterans  who  currently  reside  in  the  homes  or  the  Finance                                                              
Committee might  also decide to  authorize the additional  general                                                              
fund money to open up some of the additional beds.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
COMMISSIONER  DUNCAN said  the current revenue  picture would  not                                                              
change  if  the   demonstration  program  came   together  and  an                                                              
agreement was  made with the  VA so that  the 95 veterans  who are                                                              
presently  in the  Alaska Pioneer  Homes  could receive  veteran's                                                              
benefits. That  is because  the money would  flow directly  to the                                                              
veterans and they would use it to  help pay their cost of care. It                                                              
would  take a  general  fund appropriation  to  match the  federal                                                              
funds for more beds to be opened.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN  THERRIAULT  said, "This  committee  is  not tasked  with                                                              
balancing the checkbook, but there  is some benefit to the program                                                              
even  if we  don't have  additional  money because  some of  those                                                              
veterans  who are  currently in  the  homes are  paying for  their                                                              
services out of pocket and they could  be getting the VA benefit."                                                              
                                                                                                                                
COMMISSIONER DUNCAN agreed.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT called for teleconferenced testimony.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MERILL  HAKELA,  a Korean  War  Veteran  from Fairbanks,  said  he                                                              
opposed  the  renaming  of  the   Alaska  Pioneer  Homes  and  has                                                              
testified  against this  several  times previously.  He  suggested                                                              
converting the Bassett Army Hospital  into a stand-alone veteran's                                                              
home.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT informed him  that the proposed CS dropped the                                                              
name  change while  they worked  with  the VA  on a  demonstration                                                              
project. They don't  want to change the name until  they know that                                                              
the program would  work to everyone's satisfaction.  At a minimum,                                                              
they  want to  get VA  benefits for  those pioneers  who are  also                                                              
veterans  and are currently  living  in the Pioneer  Home,  but if                                                              
they can't  work things  out with  the VA then  there would  be no                                                              
change to the way the homes are operated.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MR. HAKELA  reiterated  his opposition to  the federal  government                                                              
having any part in the Alaska Pioneer Homes.                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
HARRY JENKINS from  Fairbanks appreciated that the  CS dropped the                                                              
name change,  but was still  opposed to  the bill. He  agreed with                                                              
Mr. Hakela  that the  Bassett Army  Hospital could  be used  for a                                                              
stand-alone veteran's home.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN  THERRIAULT  explained  the provisions  of  the  proposed                                                              
amendment to conduct  a study on unmet veterans needs.  He said he                                                              
looked into converting  the Bassett Army Hospital  and learned the                                                              
new  wing  is  usable,  but  there  are  problems  with  the  main                                                              
structure.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
DON HOOVER asked if he understood  correctly that there would be a                                                              
$250,000 study.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN  THERRIAULT  explained there  would  be  a study  if  the                                                              
proposed  amendment   was  successful.  The  larger   fiscal  note                                                              
reflects the  cost if  additional beds  were opened. Roughly  half                                                              
the  cost of  opening  the additional  beds  would  come from  the                                                              
general fund. The Finance Committee  must decide whether they will                                                              
develop  a  program  that benefits  veterans  that  are  currently                                                              
residing in  the homes  or open up  additional beds for  veterans.                                                              
There would  be a cost to the  state treasury if that  action were                                                              
taken.  The  total  general  fund   cost  to  open  up  about  100                                                              
additional beds would be almost $3 million.                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
SIDE B                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MAJOR  GENERAL  OATES, Adjutant  General  with the  Department  of                                                              
Military &  Veterans Affairs thanked  Chairman Therriault  and the                                                              
committee for their  support. He knew that everyone  who testified                                                              
had  the best  interests  of veterans  and  pioneers  in mind.  He                                                              
outlined the  difficulties associated with renovating  the Bassett                                                              
Army Hospital.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
LADDIE SHAW, Special Assistant in the Office of Veteran Affairs                                                                 
Department  of Military &  Veterans Affairs,  said he agreed  with                                                              
General Oates' words of wisdom.                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
GARY BERRY, American  Legion representative, testified  in support                                                              
of SB 55.  He would also like  to see an independent  and unbiased                                                              
study.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
CLAYTON LOVE,  Disabled American Veterans representative,  said he                                                              
agreed with Mr. Berry. He emphasized  the importance of conducting                                                              
the study. "If it  does turn out that we can  have our stand-alone                                                              
veterans  home,  it would  probably  eliminate  a lot  of  feuding                                                              
between the pioneers and the veterans, which we don't want."                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT  noted the CS  and the amendment.  He informed                                                              
members that it's  not unusual to have an appropriation  like this                                                              
that would be attached to a substantive  piece of legislation, but                                                              
it would generally be funded as a  separate line item in a capital                                                              
budget or appropriation  bill. If it  goes on as part of  a fiscal                                                              
note, the end of the session approached  and the fiscal notes must                                                              
be paid for  in the operating budget  or one of the  budget bills.                                                              
Finance Committees  are generally given  a budget into  which they                                                              
must  fit the  fiscal  notes.  Attaching  the amendment  does  not                                                              
guarantee funding for the study.  The Finance Committee could also                                                              
decide that  it would  be more  appropriate as  a part of  another                                                              
appropriation package.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
He said he was  willing to sponsor the amendment  on behalf of the                                                              
committee.  They could  either attach the  amendment or  recommend                                                              
the Finance  Committee consider it  as a potential  capital budget                                                              
request item.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR DAVIS asked what the department's preference was.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT  thought the  department would  like it  to be                                                              
attached.  He  asked  Commissioner  Duncan  for  the  department's                                                              
reaction if the Finance Committee zeroed out the fiscal note.                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
COMMISSIONER  DUNCAN  said  their  preference  is  to  attach  the                                                              
amendment and  the fiscal  note is necessary  for the study  to go                                                              
forward. They decided to do it this  way because they wanted it to                                                              
be  a  program in  its  entirety.  If  the  bill passed  with  the                                                              
amendment language and there was  no appropriation it would create                                                              
difficulty for  the department because  they don't have  the money                                                              
to do the study.  He suggested adding the language  that the study                                                              
was subject to  the appropriation. He thought it  was important to                                                              
have specific  language as  to the intent  of the $250,000.00  and                                                              
that is why they wanted it in this bill.                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT  said they would make a conceptual  change and                                                              
work with the drafters.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
He made a motion  to adopt conceptual amendment #1  to the CS with                                                              
"subject to appropriation" language.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  STEVENS asked  the Department  of  Military and  Veterans                                                              
Affairs to speak to proposed amendment #1.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MAJOR  GENERAL   OATES  said  he  and  Commissioner   Duncan  have                                                              
discussed that  and they would  expect that the  administration of                                                              
the  home  would  be  through  the  Department  of  Administration                                                              
because  they already  have an  existing process  to manage  those                                                              
homes. Whether it's  part of an Alaskan Pioneer's  Home or part of                                                              
a stand-alone veteran's home they  would still take that approach.                                                              
They  have also  spoken about  cooperating  in the  survey and  he                                                              
feels they would have a full role in accomplishing that survey.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR STEVENS  said if  the Pioneer's  Home is administrated  by                                                              
the Department of Administration  now then it sounds as though the                                                              
Legislature  would  be  giving  them  money  to  study  their  own                                                              
organization.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
COMMISSIONER  DUNCAN said  the Pioneer  Home  system is  currently                                                              
administered by  the Department of  Administration and  in statute                                                              
they  are charged  with administering  a veteran's  home if  there                                                              
were to  be one. The purpose  of the study  is to study  the unmet                                                              
needs of  veterans to make sure  they have proper care  and access                                                              
to facilities.  This would help  them determine whether  they need                                                              
to  go to  a  stand-alone  veteran's  home or  add  a wing  to  an                                                              
existing facility to meet the needs  of veterans who, for example,                                                              
aren't 65 years old.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MAJOR  GENERAL  OATES  added  that  the survey  would  be  a  full                                                              
partnership  with   the  Department  of  Administration   and  the                                                              
Department  of  Military  and Veterans  Affairs.  Their  veteran's                                                              
service  officers  and  the  Veterans  Administration  would  also                                                              
participate.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR STEVENS asked  if they would put the survey  out to bid so                                                              
there would  be some sort of  independence to address  Mr. Berry's                                                              
concern or would they be doing the survey in-house.                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
COMMISSIONER  DUNCAN said  it is  their  intent to  work with  the                                                              
Department of  Military and Veterans  Affairs to put  together the                                                              
necessary criteria for what they  want studied and then go out for                                                              
an RFP (request for proposal).                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR STEVENS asked  whether they would have  members that would                                                              
evaluate the RFP.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
COMMISSIONER DUNCAN  envisioned a steering committee  comprised of                                                              
representatives  from   the  Department  of   Administration,  the                                                              
Department  of Military  and Veterans  Affairs  and perhaps  other                                                              
interested  organizations   to  put  together  the   RFP  and  the                                                              
criteria.  Clearly,  they  would  get an  independent  company  to                                                              
conduct the study.                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
MAJOR GENERAL OATES  added, "To the extent possible  we would also                                                              
use the veterans  organizations to assist in that  data collection                                                              
and be  part of it, but  that could be  part of the package  as we                                                              
put it out to competitive bid."                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR STEVENS went on record to  say he hoped they have veterans                                                              
involved with the  development of the RFP because  they know their                                                              
needs better than anyone.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MAJOR GENERAL OATES said it was their full intention to do that.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
COMMISSIONER DUNCAN  added they have  done a number of  RFPs, they                                                              
always put together a steering team  with a broad cross section of                                                              
individuals, and they would surely involve veterans this time.                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT said there was  a motion to adopt amendment #1                                                              
that had  been changed conceptually.  He noted it was  likely that                                                              
this would cause a change in title,  but that was no problem since                                                              
this was the house of origination for the bill.                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
There being no objection, amendment #1 was adopted.                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
He noted  two fiscal notes.  There were no additional  amendments.                                                              
He asked for the will of the committee.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  DAVIS made  a motion to  move CSSB  55(STA) and  attached                                                              
fiscal notes from committee with individual recommendations.                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
There being no objection, it was so ordered.                                                                                    

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