Legislature(1997 - 1998)
02/17/1997 01:03 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HOUSE JUDICIARY STANDING COMMITTEE February 17, 1997 1:03 p.m. MEMBERS PRESENT Representative Joe Green, Chairman Representative Con Bunde, Vice Chairman Representative Brian Porter Representative Norman Rokeberg Representative Jeannette James Representative Ethan Berkowitz MEMBERS ABSENT Representative Eric Croft COMMITTEE CALENDAR *HOUSE BILL NO. 119 "An Act raising the limit on small claims actions to $10,000; and providing for an effective date." - HEARD AND HELD CONFIRMATION HEARING SHIRLEY McCOY, SELECT COMMITTEE ON ETHICS - CONFIRMATION ADVANCED (*First public hearing) PREVIOUS ACTION BILL: HB 119 SHORT TITLE: INCREASE SMALL CLAIMS JURISDICTION SPONSOR(S): REPRESENTATIVE(S) HODGINS,Green,Croft JRN-DATE JRN-PG ACTION 02/07/97 265 (H) READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRAL(S) 02/07/97 265 (H) JUDICIARY 02/17/97 (H) JUD AT 1:00 PM CAPITOL 120 WITNESS REGISTER TOM MANNENIN, Legislative Administrative Assistant to Representative Mark Hodgins Capitol Building, Room 110 Juneau, AK 99811 Telephone: (907)465-4853 Position Statement: Provided sponsor statement on HB 119 CHRIS CHRISTENSEN, Staff Counsel Alaska Court System 820 West Fourth Avenue Anchorage, Alaska 99501-2005 Telephone: (907) 264-8228 Position Statement: Testified in opposition to HB 119 SHIRLEY MCCOY P.O. Box 33475 Juneau, Alaska 99803 Telephone: (907)780-6400 POSITION STATEMENT: Presented information on her confirmation to the Select Committee on Ethics ACTION NARRATIVE TAPE 97-19, SIDE A Number 001 CHAIRMAN JOE GREEN called the House Judiciary Standing Committee to order at 1:03 p.m.. Members present at the call to order were Representatives Ethan Berkowitz, Norman Rokeberg, Brian Porter and Chairman Joe Green. Representative Con Bunde arrived at 1:04 p.m. and Representative Jeannette James arrived at 1:05 p.m. Representative Eric Croft was excused. HB 119 - INCREASE SMALL CLAIMS JURISDICTION Number 0037 CHAIRMAN GREEN advised members they would be considering HB 119 - "An Act raising the limit on small claims actions to $10,000; and providing for an effective date." Vice Chairman Bunde arrived. CHAIRMAN GREEN invited Tom Manninen, staff to Representative Mark Hodgins, the prime sponsor of HB 119, to provide comments on the proposed legislation. TOM MANNENIN, Legislative Administrative Assistant to Representative Hodgins, provided an overview of HB 119. He said the proposed legislation would increase the small claims cap to $10,000, presently set at $5,000. Representative Hodgins felt the increase would more accurately represent the real dollar costs involved in small claims litigation. Number 0154 REPRESENTATIVE NORMAN ROKEBERG asked Mr. Mannenin when the small claims cap was last changed. MR. MANNENIN advised members the cap was changed to $5000 in 1986. Representative Jeannette James arrived. REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG asked what the inflation rate was over the past 11 years. MR. MANNENIN advised members the inflation rate was between 33.5 percent to 40 percent. REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG felt the number given might be accurate for the city of Anchorage. He felt that the United States' city average rate of inflation was possibly higher than 33.5 percent during that period of time. He stated that the rate of inflation, over an 11 year period, would account for a significant rationale for the increase in the small claims cap. REPRESENTATIVE CON BUNDE asked what kind of input they had received from the legal community regarding the increase in the small claims cap. MR. MANNENIN said they have not received much input from the legal community. He felt there could be some concern out there, but no one had expressed concern to Representative Hodgins. REPRESENTATIVE ETHAN BERKOWITZ responded to Representative Bunde's question. He advised members that usually small claims cases were too small to be of any financial value, or attraction, to attorneys. He said there are not many lawyers who become involved in small claims. REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE questioned whether the small claims process would become a more formal procedure because of the increase in the cap. CHAIRMAN GREEN advised members that Chris Christensen from the Alaska Court System would be providing testimony, via teleconference, and would address the fiscal note submitted by the court system. REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG asked Mr. Mannenin if he knew what the small claims caps were in other states. MR. MANNENIN advised members that he could not answer that question. Number 0445 REPRESENTATIVE JEANNETTE JAMES asked what the current filing fee was. CHAIRMAN GREEN responded that the current filing fee was $25.00, adding that the filing fee had not changed for some time. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES felt the filing fee ought to be increased as well. She advised members if a person hired an attorney to represent the case, they would be required to pay an up-front retainer fee, and by increasing the filing fee for those who handle their own small claims suits, it would provide more of a balance of the two instances. CHAIRMAN GREEN asked that Chris Christensen address the committee on the fiscal note. CHRIS CHRISTENSEN, General Counsel, Alaska Court System, pointed out that more bills affect the judiciary than other executive branch departments. Several hundred bills affecting the judiciary are introduced in each legislature. Mr. Christensen advised members that, as a general rule, the Alaska Supreme Court did not take a position in favor or against any piece of legislation. He noted that he would attempt to bring technical problems to the attention of the committee, and advise members of costs relating to proposed legislation. Mr. Christensen reiterated that the court would only take a position when it believes a bill would have a very significant impact on the internal operations of the branch. MR. CHRISTENSEN noted that he was making the disclaimer because he wanted the committee to know that the court does not take the position to oppose or support legislation lightly. However, Mr. Christensen advised members that the Alaska Court System did oppose the proposed legislation in its current form. MR. CHRISTENSEN explained that HB 119 doubled the jurisdictional limit of small claims actions from $5000 to $10,000. He advised members that the Alaska Supreme Court did not object to increasing the small claims jurisdiction, quite the contrary. Mr. Christensen pointed out that since the last increase in the small claims cap, which took place in 1986, the consumer price index (CPI), for Anchorage had increased by approximately 35 percent. That increase would reflect that the small claims jurisdiction should be at approximately $6900. MR. CHRISTENSEN pointed out that he had advised the legislature several times during the last few sessions that the court does not object to an increase above the inflation rate, possibly as high as $7500. At that point, the court would evaluate the consequences of the increase. The legislature could revisit the issue in another two years to determine whether the consequences were not too severe as a result of the initial increase and evaluate whether another increase, up to $10,000, would be appropriate at that time. MR. CHRISTENSEN advised members that the court system believed that a jump to $10,000, at this time, would have potential of imposing some very severe consequences on the court system. He felt there was a common misunderstanding about small claims court; most people think that because it is a simple, cheap court for the parties, it is also a simple, cheap court for the state. This understanding is not true. MR. CHRISTENSEN said small claims cases require far more clerical involvement than low value cases which proceed under formal rules in district court. He explained that the courts not only create and provide the parties with fill-in-the-blank forms, but they also assist parties in filling out the forms. Mr. Christensen pointed out that the court provides much more detailed procedural assistance in the conduct of a claim, as well as performing much of the procedural work for the parties such as serving documents on the opposing party. MR. CHRISTENSEN pointed out that the court system hires the best people they can get; however, he expected that it was quite possible that there would be many cases, in many locations, where the magistrate would not be able to handle the case because of its complexity. He noted that magistrates were normally not attorneys. MR. CHRISTENSEN said an additional problem was that the vast majority of those who file small claims actions never talk to a lawyer first. Whereas, the majority of those filing a suit in district court would first consult with an attorney. Many of those cases never see the courthouse because the lawyer was able to settle the case or explain to the person filing the suit why they would not have an arguable case. MR. CHRISTENSEN stated that the filing of small claims actions increased by 11 percent in 1996, but the resources to handle those cases did not increase. This results in the courts losing the ability to handle the cases in an expeditious manner and HB 119 would most likely increase that problem. MR. CHRISTENSEN further stated that small claims court is an essential element in the justice system. He explained that it provided a forum for people to resolve their disputes constructively and allows people to deal with small claims that could not be handled economically by an attorney. MR. CHRISTENSEN pointed out that there was a wide range of opinions on what that cap level should be. He noted that more than half the states, including states with a higher cost of living than Alaska such as Hawaii, place the limit of small claims jurisdiction at or below $3000, with only two states placing the limit above $5000. MR. CHRISTENSEN pointed out the fact that even though the crime rate decreased the previous year, more people were being prosecuted - presumably because more people were being caught. The increase in prosecution meant that the court system was falling behind. He noted that they have more work with no increase in resources. MR. CHRISTENSEN advised members that the court strongly believed that an increase in small claims jurisdiction to $10,000 would have a serious potential of creating a further imbalance within the system and causing some severe internal problems. MR. CHRISTENSEN pointed out that it was not just a question of the fiscal note. He noted that the fiscal note submitted by the court system only reflected an increase in clerical time. There were additional things that could not be reflected in the fiscal note, which was why the Alaska Supreme Court was concerned. Mr. Christensen explained that if the case load became substantially more complex, with many magistrates unable to handle those complex cases, injustice would result. He said this was not the kind of thing one could attach to a fiscal note. MR. CHRISTENSEN strongly urged the committee to consider an amendment to HB 119 which would place the small claims cap at $7500 and then revisit the issue in two years, after the court system had time to evaluate the consequences of an increase. Number 1255 CHAIRMAN GREEN asked Mr. Christensen to comment on what happened to the court system when the small claims limit was increased from $2000 to $5000. MR. CHRISTENSEN could not answer that, although he felt that they might be able to figure it out by looking through the annual reports. CHAIRMAN GREEN noted the court system was concerned over the doubling of the cap, and mentioned that the increase from $2000 to $5000 was a two and a half fold increase. MR. CHRISTENSEN advised members he had some statistics available. The statistics showed the age of pending cases in small claims court as of December 31, 1996. These were cases the court was attempting to get out as quickly as possible because that is what small claims court is all about. The median case in Anchorage was 300 days old and the average case 400 days old. In Ketchikan it was 450 days old. Mr. Christensen explained that the delays, in part, were the result of the 11 percent increase in case loads the previous year without any increase in resources. MR. CHRISTENSEN advised members that taking 300 days to get a small claims case resolved was wrong. If the state dramatically increases the jurisdictional limit, the number of days could extend further. He added that "justice delayed is justice denied," which he did not believe was the intent of the legislature. CHAIRMAN GREEN said the large difference between the median and the average would indicate a heavy end to the curve. Number 1417 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES asked how the fee, for filing a small claims suit, was established. MR. CHRISTENSEN said the Alaska Supreme Court had been given the authority to establish filing fees for various types of cases. The fee to file in small claims court is $25. Mr. Christensen pointed out the fee for small claims court was low because it was supposed to be the people's court, an inexpensive court where a lawyer is not needed. The court system did not want to the fee to serve to bar small claims. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES understood that small claims court was supposed to be inexpensive, but that did not mean it was not suppose to pay its own way. She proposed the establishment of a sliding scale in conjunction with the size of the claim. MR. CHRISTENSEN said the Alaska Supreme Court had always believed very strongly that small claims cases were not supposed to pay their own way. He stated that justice was one of the basic functions of state government. Providing a justice system was not something the state does because people want it or because it makes them feel good, but because the state has to provide it. Mr. Christensen noted that without a justice system there would not be much point in government. MR. CHRISTENSEN added that justice should be funded at the level needed, whether or not it actually paid its own way. He advised members that the legislature could enact a sliding scale fee and overturn the court rule if it chose to. Number 1651 REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE felt that possibly some of the small claims case load would diminish if there was some personal investment involved in achieving access to small claims court. He suggested that the application should pay for itself and did not see how a filing fee of $25 would cover all the court assistance procedures and paper work costs. Representative Bunde asked Mr. Christensen what the filing process cost the court system per claimant. MR. CHRISTENSEN expressed that it was low cost to the litigant, but not for the state. He explained, that although the court charges the $25 filing fee, the claimant could pick up the forms and receive free assistance from the clerks in completing the forms. Mr. Christensen pointed out that the Alaska Supreme Court did review filing fee rates every four or five years to make sure they are reasonable and does so by comparing the rate with other states. He added that filing fees in Alaska were not particularly low. He noted that the state would not want to impose a filing fee so high that it would make people feel they have been barred from justice. Number 1851 REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG asked that Mr. Christensen explain the jurisdiction of the district court, the small claims court and how they mesh. MR. CHRISTENSEN advised members that the district court had jurisdiction over civil claims up to $50,000 while the small claims court has jurisdiction up to $5000. He noted that the small claims court was also barred from hearing certain kinds of cases which the district court is allowed to hear. These cases include the ability to file a claim against the state, a claim involving equity, or certain types of tort actions such as; false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, defamation or slander. Number 1920 MR. CHRISTENSEN advised members that there were actually two kinds of judges in a district court; district judges appointed by the governor who have the full district court jurisdiction, and magistrates who are hired by the court system who have limited district court jurisdiction. Magistrates can only hear infractions and small claims cases. Number 2074 REPRESENTATIVE BRIAN PORTER referenced the court's practice of serving process in small claims court and asked why the court chose to offer that service. MR. CHRISTENSEN advised members that the court charges the fee, fills out the paperwork and provides it to the process servers. He understood this was because the legislature had instructed the Alaska Supreme Court to make the rules simple and expeditious. He pointed out, in the distant past, this was one way to simplify the procedure. He added that the average citizen did not understand the service of process and, if that was done improperly, there would not be a case. REPRESENTATIVE ETHAN BERKOWITZ asked if the courts would have more problems, as a result of the increase in the small claims cap, with higher numbers of pro se litigants. MR. CHRISTENSEN said this would be one distinct problem the court system felt it would have as a result of HB 119. Pro se litigants were very expensive, difficult and time consuming to handle, but it was a duty of the court to handle those cases as a matter of public service. Mr. Christensen advised members that the court had over 8,000 small claims cases, which was close to 10 percent of the court's case load, and the court was already delaying those cases way beyond the point that they should have been resolved. Number 2212 REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ expressed concern about the apparent gap for people seeking justice between $5000 and $50,000. He asked how many suits had been filed in district court between $5000 and $10,000 in 1996. MR. CHRISTENSEN could not answer that, although would attempt to get that statistic. He did not know if the court's computer system had the ability to produce that information. REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ asked which two states had a small claims cap over $5000 and what their experience had been. MR. CHRISTENSEN advised members that the two states were Nevada and Tennessee, but he did not know what their experiences had been. REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ asked Mr. Christensen if he could suggest any alternatives, in lieu of raising the cap to $10,000, that would provide more civil justice to a greater amount of people in the small claims court. MR. CHRISTENSEN advised members that would be something he would have to give some serious thought to. CHAIRMAN GREEN pointed out that the inflation rate had increased approximately 35 percent over the past 11 years and that rate would increase the present $5000 small claims cap to almost $7000. He asked Mr. Christensen if the court would support an increase to $7500, and then revisit the issue in a couple years. MR. CHRISTENSEN advised members the court system would support that. He explained that the court system was a strong supporter of small claims court and thinks it is essential, it increases justice. Mr. Christensen stated that the court system felt $7500 would be appropriate, the court system could evaluate the consequences with the issue being revisited in two years. He noted that if it was not causing the kinds of problems the court system felt might occur then it might be appropriate to raise the cap again at that time. Number 2320 REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG asked if HB 119 were amended to a $7500 small claims limit, if the fiscal note would be reduced. MR. CHRISTENSEN stated that this cap would reduce the fiscal note possibly by half because it would result in much less clerical work being provided by the court system. Number 2380 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES pointed out that the fiscal note was requesting funds for one more person, but with the existing backlog and delay in hearing small claims cases she felt an additional person was needed anyway. If that staff was located in Anchorage it would not help other areas of the state with their backlog problems. MR. CHRISTENSEN explained that the court could hire part-time people in several locations, attempt to move clerical work from one site to another, or use the funds to pay overtime in various locations. He noted that the court system had alerted the Judiciary Committees and the Finance Committees, over the past several years, that they would be seeing a large case load increase because of the increase of law enforcement officers in Anchorage, which the legislature did not fund. He referred to a discussion with clerk of court in Anchorage two weeks ago, who said that traffic tickets for the calendar year 1996 had increased by 8,000. Mr. Christensen pointed out that these tickets were not paid by mail, but tickets where people actually showed up in court. The Anchorage court system was falling dramatically behind because of the municipality's increased police force. TAPE 97-19, SIDE B Number 000 REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE felt that an increase in the small claims jurisdiction should increase the filing fee at the same rate. He asked that Mr. Christensen comment on that suggestion, and provide some ideas as to how to accomplish that. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER said, if there are 8,000 cases now and the jurisdiction is increased and we estimate that the case load would increase by half, increasing the filing fees from $25 to $50 would bring in another $100,000. Number 0042 MR. CHRISTENSEN pointed out that filing fees were set in the court rules. The legislature could instruct a legislative drafter to add a court rules change to the bill. Mr. Christensen thought the filing fee for district court was currently set at $60.00. He pointed out that the Alaska Court System did not get program receipts. All fees, fines and forfeitures accepted by the courts each year are turned over to the general fund, this amount was approximately $7 million in 1996. REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ asked if the chairman would accept a motion to table HB 119 for the purpose of allowing Representative Croft, as a co-sponsor to the proposed legislation, to speak to the concerns expressed during the meeting. Number 0220 REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG felt the proposed legislation could be held over for further consideration, rather than tabled. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER had no objection to holding the bill for further consideration of an appropriate increase in the small claims cap, as well as an increase in filing fees for those types of cases. Number 0298 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES stated that the existing $25 filing fee had been in existence for a long period of time and felt it should increase along with the small claims cap. It was her desire that the bill be held in order to speak with the prime sponsor, Representative Hodgins, on those issues. She agreed with Representative Rokeberg that it would not be necessary to table the bill. REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE advised members that he would feel more comfortable if the small claims cap were increased to $7,500 in addition to increasing the filing fee. He felt the sponsor should be aware of it and comfortable with the suggestions presented by members of the House Judiciary Standing Committee. Number 0520 TOM MANNENIN noted that he would feel more comfortable with Representative Hodgins speaking for himself, but stated it did not seem reasonable to increase the cap to $7,500 this year and raise it again in a year or two. He said it would require a change in filing forms which would result in additional costs to the system. He felt, in the long run, it would cost the state more time, energy and effort. He said if we realize that this is a problem, accept it as such, change the cap one time, then everything would be done. CHAIRMAN GREEN felt it was a convincing argument and advised members he would hold the bill for further consideration and notice from the chair. Number 0586 CHAIRMAN GREEN called a brief at-ease at 2:05 p.m. for the purpose of contacting Shirley McCoy via teleconference. The meeting reassumed at 2:08 p.m. CONFIRMATION OF SHIRLEY McCOY, SELECT COMMITTEE ON ETHICS Number 0605 CHAIRMAN GREEN advised members they would next consider the Governor's reappointment of Shirley McCoy to the Select Committee on Ethics. SHIRLEY MCCOY advised members she had served one partial term and one complete term on the Select Committee on Ethics as a public member. She explained that her primary reason for being interested in serving on the Ethics Committee, initially, was the fact that she had been involved in community issues in Sitka, Alaska. Ms. McCoy stated that she had just recently moved to Juneau when the Ethics Committee was being formed and felt it would be a good opportunity to continue to have some public involvement. Number 0643 CHAIRMAN GREEN pointed out the strong possibility of the ethics rules being revisited and revised because of a recent situation where many seemed to interpret the present rules differently. He asked Ms. McCoy to respond to the issue of amending the current ethics rules. MS. MCCOY felt from the very beginning that those who had served on the Ethics Committee had noticed a number of areas within the rules that were not completely clear, and possibly contradictory. She noted that any time a new law comes into effect there are certain things that need to be worked out. MS. MCCOY felt the present Ethics Committee had gone a long way to identify some of the problem areas and, with the help of legislators on the panel, they had attempted to present those problem areas to the full body. CHAIRMAN GREEN referenced the deliberations of the Ethics Committee in the recent past and asked Ms. McCoy if she recalled statements made by former Senator Rodey which indicated that the current ethics laws were less than perfect. The ethics laws were a conglomeration of bits and pieces. He asked if she would concur with the statements made by Senator Rodey. MS. MCCOY advised members that she did listen to those hearings, as well as to Senator Rodey's comments. She stated that she would not concur with his statements totally, but agreed that there were some problem areas. Ms. McCoy felt the rules had a fairly solid foundation and she thought the problem areas could be addressed easily. She commented that one does not have to "throw out the baby with the bath water." To clarify, she felt the ethics code was basically sound and although there were some problem areas, they were not substantial. She thought they could be identified, successfully between those who had worked on the Ethics Committee, and then presented to the full body. Ms. McCoy did not feel a complete rewrite of the ethics code would be necessary. Number 0900 REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ asked Ms. McCoy to express her views regarding citizen participation on the Ethics Committee. MS. MCCOY felt private citizen participation on the Ethics Committee offered a valid compliment to the make-up of the committee. She also felt it was imperative to have public members on the committee for the purpose of satisfying legislator's constituents, giving them a level of comfort that they had not had in the past. REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ asked if Ms. McCoy felt the manner, in which the last process worked, diminished the citizen role in any fashion. MS. MCCOY responded that it did not, adding that she felt it was beneficial due to the fact that it exposed some areas of conflicting interpretation of the rules. She expressed that the Ethics Committee was a buffer zone between the legislators and the public, and advised members that the committee did the best they could with the information they had. Ms. McCoy pointed out that the committee received many minor complaints that they would not even care to consider. The ethics code does not allow the committee to be the final authority, the legislature is. She reiterated that the last situation identified some areas that really need to be addressed. Number 980 MS. MCCOY explained that there were seven people who debated for an extended period of time to reach a common stance. She noted that one of the things she felt very comfortable about in the meetings was that members go to an extreme to ensure that they are following the ethics code when considering a complaint. Number 1092 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES expressed her appreciation of Ms. McCoy's willingness to continue serving on the Ethics Committee. Representative James felt that the need for an Ethics Committee was to address the perception of the public, not necessarily reality. Number 1176 MS. MCCOY agreed with Representative James, pointing out that many times the public was not aware of all of the information that comes before the Ethics Committee. She was sure there had been times when the committee had eliminated violations or complaints, or found lack of probable cause, yet the public possibly had more questions. The best the committee could do in those situations was try to clarify, usually through the press, what those situations and circumstances were. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER advised members that he had the opportunity to serve with Ms. McCoy on the Ethics Committee during the first two years of its existence. He noted from his experience that Ms. McCoy was an objective, no nonsense and common sense kind of person who brings the right approach to the consideration of ethics complaints and questions. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER pointed out that one of the problems the Ethics Committee faced initially, including himself as a legislator, was the lack of experience in the legislative process. He felt this experience was an important and necessary element of a legislative ethics committee. MS. MCCOY expressed her appreciation of Representative Porter's support. She agreed that there was merit to having continuity on the Ethics Committee and felt that any change of membership to the committee, at this point, would slow down the process because they had spent so much time trying to tighten up the codes that currently exist. Ms. McCoy noted that there were two new legislative members on the Ethics Committee and she had been impressed with their ability to jump right in, adding that they did have the legislative background by virtue of their position. MS. MCCOY advised members that her main reason for being interested in being reappointed to the Ethics Committee was to maintain the continuity of the committee and be able to see through some of the objectives the committee was in the process of addressing. REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE noted that he was a newly appointed member of the Select Committee on Ethics and had the opportunity to work with Ms. McCoy, although briefly, and would also recommend her reappointment to the Ethics Committee. REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE stated that prior to his appointment to the committee, there had been discussions regarding legislative changes to the ethics code, and asked Ms. McCoy if she felt the proposed changes would assist the process in being more effective. MS. MCCOY felt the suggested changes would go a long way in clarifying specific areas and providing a better comfort level with the ethics code. She noted there would still be areas of concern that might arise, but felt they would be very minor. Ms. McCoy said the changes they were proposing would eliminate a majority of the differences of interpretation that had been recognized during the recent hearings. REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG asked Ms. McCoy if she felt the Ethics Committee, or its executive director, should seek out ethics violations. Number 1830 MS. MCCOY responded that she was not aware that anyone on the committee had ever sought out violations. She believed that Susie Barnett testified during the House Rules Committee meetings that there had been times when she had, in her capacity, seen minor infractions, had approached the offices and mentioned to the individual involved that it could be a violation of the ethics code. Ms. McCoy pointed out that the objective of the members of the Ethics Committee was to help the situation, not add fuel to the fire. MS. MCCOY explained that the committee's first course of action upon receipt of a complaint was to verify that it was valid, notarized and signed by the complainant. Once that process is completed, the committee is obligated to act on the information before them. Ms. McCoy advised members that she did not feel it was a members' purpose to go out and look for complaints, but if she or anyone else on the committee had direct knowledge of a violation, she would not have a problem in filing a complaint. REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG said the executive director of the Ethics Committee had been proactive in seeking out violations. He felt this was something that the legislative counsel should look into and members of the Ethics Committee should be aware of it. Number 2120 CHAIRMAN GREEN referenced the House Rules Committee hearings which took place several weeks ago, and pointed out that the results arrived at were basically opposite of the results reached by the Ethics Committee in the matter of guilt as well as the matter of cooperation. He asked Ms. McCoy what her reaction would be, in the future, knowing that any review and recommendation by the Ethics Committee could be reviewed by a Legislative Rules Committee. MS. MCCOY said she was not sure that she was in total agreement that the Rules Committee's decision totally contradicted the Ethics Committee's decision in both those areas. She noted that the House Rules Committee did find, as the Ethics Committee did, that there was a lack of cooperation and felt that the Rules Committee dealt with that appropriately. Ms. McCoy stated that if there had been the level of cooperation from the beginning, the state would have saved mega-bucks. It was never the intent or purpose of the Ethics Committee to hold a public hearing. She stated that the Ethics Committee followed the code and did exactly what was required by the code. She said given the same circumstances and the same code, she did not see where anything could have been dealt with differently. TAPE 97-20, SIDE A Number 000 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER stated that as a member of the House Rules Committee he did not feel it was a total disagreement with the Ethics Committee's decision, but disagreed with the finding of the Ethics Committee that elements of specific statutes existed in a specific fact situation. He noted that it is a far cry from a determination that a certain behavior is, or is not, ethical. CHAIRMAN GREEN clarified his earlier statement regarding the decisions reached by each committee being opposite. He stated that he realized that both the Ethics Committee and the House Rules Committee found a lack of cooperation; however, he felt the Ethics Committee treated that rather lightly, and the Rules Committee acted fairly stringent on that matter. Number 0206 MS. MCCOY felt the Ethics Committee took into consideration the lack of cooperation, but also the fact that there were two other similar charges before them. She said this was why the sanctions were deemed more significant than they may have been for what was otherwise considered a minor infraction by the Ethics Committee. Number 310 REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ felt the sanction applied for the failure to cooperate bore no relation to the cost overruns that resulted from the failure to cooperate, he felt it was a very light sanction. He expressed concern that the House Rules Committee substituted its view of the facts for those given to the Ethics Committee. Representative Berkowitz felt it had the effect of eviscerating a strong public process and expressed his disagreement with what occurred. He was wholly supportive of how the Ethics Committee dealt with the process and felt compelled to make those statements as a minority member of the legislature. Number 385 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER moved that the Governor's reappointment of Shirley McCoy to the Select Committee on Ethics be reported out of committee and forwarded on to the Joint Floor Session for confirmation purposes. There being no objection, it was so ordered. Number 0428 ADJOURNMENT There being nothing further to come before the committee, Chairman Green adjourned the House Judiciary Standing Committee meeting at 2:45 p.m.