Legislature(2003 - 2004)

03/25/2003 03:35 PM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
         SB  26-STATE EMPLOYEES CALLED TO MILITARY DUTY                                                                     
SENATOR KIM ELTON, bill sponsor,  told a short story about Master                                                               
Sergeant Steve Fernandez, a HH-60  Pavehawk gunner and a Williams                                                               
Refinery  employee who  was  recently called  to  serve a  twelve                                                               
month tour  of active duty.  His employer agreed to  backfill his                                                               
salary, which  means his income  won't be diminished while  he is                                                               
serving the state and nation.                                                                                                   
SB  26  allows the  Governor  to  do  the  same thing  for  state                                                               
employees. It  provides that the  Governor may  backfill salaries                                                               
and may extend  benefits to both army and air  guardsmen that are                                                               
called for  active duty. He  noted there is a  proposed amendment                                                               
that would extend the benefit  to the Alaska State Defense Force.                                                               
This would affect a total of  138 state employees; 43 in the Army                                                               
National Guard,  83 in the  Air National  Guard and 12  belong to                                                               
the  State  Defense  Force.  Currently  eight  to  ten  of  these                                                               
employees  have been  called to  active duty  and last  year just                                                               
eight were called.                                                                                                              
The effective  date is  retroactive to  9/11/01 and  the benefits                                                               
that  may  be included  are  credited  service, health  and  life                                                               
insurance and SBS [Supplemental Benefit System].                                                                                
He presented an amendment [1]  that would delete "Alaska National                                                               
Guard and the Alaska Naval  Militia" following "including the" on                                                               
page  1,  line  9  and   insert  "organized  militia  of  Alaska,                                                               
consisting  of  the  Alaska  National  Guard,  the  Alaska  Naval                                                               
Militia, and the Alaska State Defense Force".                                                                                   
CHAIR  GARY  STEVENS asked  him  whether  the Governor  would  be                                                               
required to make the bill retroactive to 9/11/01.                                                                               
SENATOR  ELTON  explained  the  Governor  isn't  required  to  do                                                               
anything;  Administrative Order  allows  him  the opportunity  to                                                               
extend  benefits retroactively  to anyone  called to  active duty                                                               
post 9/11/01.                                                                                                                   
SENATOR GRETCHEN GUESS asked for a  review of what happens in the                                                               
private sector and other governmental entities.                                                                                 
SENATOR  ELTON advised  Tennessee was  the most  recent state  to                                                               
have passed the  same type of legislation.  The Williams Refinery                                                               
employee is  a private  sector example  and Chugach  in Anchorage                                                               
has  also covered  benefits and  salary. This  isn't an  uncommon                                                               
situation   in  the   private  sector,   particularly  in   large                                                               
SENATOR  GUESS  recapped saying  it's  a  choice in  the  private                                                               
sector  and this  would extend  the  choice to  the Governor  for                                                               
state employees.                                                                                                                
SENATOR  ELTON  agreed  and  advised  this  doesn't  require  the                                                               
Governor provide the  extension of benefits; it allows  him to do                                                               
so. There is  also a provision that takes into  account that some                                                               
of  the benefits  are  done  under the  purview  of a  negotiated                                                               
contract  and provides  that for  these benefits  to be  extended                                                               
there would have to be a contract amendment.                                                                                    
SENATOR GUESS  noted she has a  friend who is with  the Anchorage                                                               
Police Department  who was called to  active duty and has  had to                                                               
do without  his salary for  a year.  She asked whether  the state                                                               
would  have any  authority  over municipalities  if the  Governor                                                               
were to elect this option.                                                                                                      
SENATOR  ELTON assumed  that would  have to  be addressed  at the                                                               
local level.  The police  officer clearly  took a  financial hit,                                                               
but not all  state employees who are called up  would lose money.                                                               
Some would actually  make more money than in their  state job. SB                                                               
26  would  allow  the  extension of  state  benefits  -  credited                                                               
service, SBS, and health and life insurance.                                                                                    
SENATOR GUESS asked if PERS would be included.                                                                                  
SENATOR ELTON replied just SBS and credited service.                                                                            
SENATOR  COWDERY asked  what the  present  requirements were  for                                                               
employers  who have  employees  called for  duty  in addition  to                                                               
giving them their job back upon their return.                                                                                   
SENATOR ELTON  replied it is  his understanding that is  the only                                                               
requirement.  He didn't  believe there  was any  requirement that                                                               
the company provide  extended benefits while the  employee was in                                                               
service. He  advised he would check  again to make sure  that was                                                               
SENATOR COWDERY asked what other states do in this regard.                                                                      
SENATOR  ELTON   advised  him  that  Tennessee   adopted  similar                                                               
legislation  recently.   He  pointed  out  the   benefit  package                                                               
protects the employees family as well.                                                                                          
SENATOR COWDERY asked how many Alaskans would be eligible.                                                                      
SENATOR ELTON replied  it is hard to predict,  but the Department                                                               
of Administration  reported eight state employees  were called to                                                               
active duty last year.                                                                                                          
SENATOR COWDERY related  a story about a friend who  is an Alaska                                                               
Air National  Guardsman who also  works with Alaska  Airlines and                                                               
makes  more  money with  the  guard.  He  asked  if there  was  a                                                               
projected cost.                                                                                                                 
SENATOR ELTON  said if this had  been in place last  year, and if                                                               
the Governor had extended the  backfill provisions as well as the                                                               
health  benefits,   SBS,  and   credited  service   benefit,  the                                                               
estimated cost to the state  would have been $80,000. He admitted                                                               
it's more difficult to look forward than back.                                                                                  
SENATOR COWDERY asked if they  anticipated any cap on the monthly                                                               
pay benefit.                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  ELTON  replied that  is  possible  because the  language                                                               
provides   that  the   Governor  may   do  this.   The  language,                                                               
particularly with regard to benefits, is purposefully flexible.                                                                 
SENATOR COWDERY asked  if this would cover just  regular time and                                                               
not overtime.                                                                                                                   
SENATOR  ELTON conceded  that was  an  interesting question.  The                                                               
bill language gives  the Governor latitude to  give the employees                                                               
the  equivalent of  their state  compensation.  There is  nothing                                                               
that  would  preclude  the Governor  from  taking  overtime  into                                                               
account,  but he  would be  somewhat  surprised if  that were  to                                                               
SENATOR  COWDERY asked  for  an accounting  of  overtime pay.  He                                                               
thought there were court cases to review.                                                                                       
SENATOR  ELTON agreed  to check  and  added there  is nothing  to                                                               
preclude the Governor from  including this through Administrative                                                               
Order. The  intent of  SB 26  is to keep  the employee  whole, to                                                               
ensure they don't lose benefits for themselves and their family.                                                                
CHAIR GARY STEVENS called for public testimony.                                                                                 
MS.  DEBRA GERRISH  said she  was the  wife of  an Army  National                                                               
Guard officer  and her  family will  have to  make do  on $15,000                                                               
less while  he is  on active  duty. Health  insurance is  a vital                                                               
part  of this  bill because  many families  are left  without any                                                               
insurance when a family member is  called to active duty. This is                                                               
a  shortcoming to  which much  of  the public  is unaware.  Guard                                                               
families have  no organized  support system  and this  would help                                                               
those families.                                                                                                                 
MS. JULIE  BENSON testified  via teleconference  and said  she is                                                               
the  wife  of  an  Alaska   State  Trooper  and  Alaska  National                                                               
Guardsman. Her husband joined the  Alaska Air National Guard when                                                               
he left  the Army and spent  six month active duty  in the Middle                                                               
East  during Operation  Enduring  Freedom. She  said,  "SB 26  is                                                               
essential legislation for state  employees who make the difficult                                                               
choice to  serve not only  their state, but also  their country."                                                               
When her  husband was activated,  the benefits he received  as an                                                               
Alaska State Trooper were  immediately terminated, which resulted                                                               
in lost retirement contributions, lost  health care to his family                                                               
and forfeited pay raises. She urged passage of SB 26.                                                                           
4:00 pm                                                                                                                         
MR.  BUTCH  STEIN  testified  via teleconference  that  he  is  a                                                               
retired, active  duty member of  the 168   Air Refueling  Wing at                                                               
Eielson  Air  Force  Base.  He   served  on  the  state  steering                                                               
committee for employers  who support the guard  and reserve. This                                                               
bill would put the State of  Alaska inline with Title 3080 United                                                               
States  Code,  Chapter  43,  which   is  also  known  as  USERRA,                                                               
Uniformed  Services Employment  and  Reemployment  Rights. SB  26                                                               
actually goes beyond  the federal requirement, but  he knows some                                                               
states have done that. In the private sector, it is a case-by-                                                                  
case  basis. He  said, "These  people  are patriots  and I  don't                                                               
think that  word is  used enough  and I  don't think  most people                                                               
realize the sacrifice these people make."                                                                                       
SENATOR FRED DYSON said, "Amen."                                                                                                
There was no further testimony.                                                                                                 
CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked for a motion to adopt amendment #1.                                                                    
SENATOR GUESS made a motion to adopt amendment #1.                                                                              
There being no objection, it was so ordered.                                                                                    
SENATOR  GUESS made  a motion  to move  SB 26,  as amended,  from                                                               
committee  with individual  recommendations  and attached  fiscal                                                               
SENATOR DYSON acknowledged  he was out of order but  he wanted to                                                               
state he  was embarrassed  the state  treated Trooper  Benson the                                                               
way it  did. He wanted the  record to reflect that  he thinks the                                                               
trooper should be fully reimbursed by the state.                                                                                
CHAIR  GARY STEVENS  thanked  the Senator  for  his comments.  He                                                               
advised members the motion before them  was to move CSSB 26 (STA)                                                               
from committee with  individual recommendations and indeterminate                                                               
fiscal note. There being no objection, it was so ordered.                                                                       

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