Legislature(1995 - 1996)
01/24/1996 03:12 PM L&C
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HOUSE LABOR AND COMMERCE STANDING COMMITTEE January 24, 1996 3:12 p.m. MEMBERS PRESENT Representative Pete Kott, Chairman Representative Norman Rokeberg, Vice Chairman Representative Beverly Masek Representative Jerry Sanders Representative Brian Porter Representative Kim Elton Representative Gene Kubina MEMBERS ABSENT All members present COMMITTEE CALENDAR HOUSE BILL NO. 311 "An Act repealing the limitation on the hours a person may be employed in a mine; and making a related technical amendment to avoid changing the penalties for failing to make payments into an employee benefit fund." - HEARD AND HELD HOUSE BILL NO. 319 "An Act relating to the regulation of small loan and retail installment transactions." - SCHEDULED BUT NOT HEARD PREVIOUS ACTION BILL: HB 311 SHORT TITLE: REPEAL LIMIT ON HOURS EMPLOYED IN MINES SPONSOR(S): REPRESENTATIVE(S) VEZEY, Toohey, Martin JRN-DATE JRN-PG ACTION 04/18/95 1351 (H) READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRAL(S) 04/18/95 1351 (H) LABOR & COMMERCE, JUDICIARY 01/24/96 (H) L&C AT 03:00 PM CAPITOL 17 ACTION NARRATIVE TAPE 96-3, SIDE A Number 001 The House Labor and Commerce Standing Committee was called to order by Chairman Pete Kott at 3:12 p.m. Members present at the call to order were Representatives Elton, Sanders, Rokeberg and Kott. CHAIRMAN PETE KOTT announced there were two items on the calendar, HB 319 and HB 311. He said before the committee addresses those bills, at the close of the last Labor and Commerce meeting, the committee discussed the impact of the Governor's regulations on the vocational schools in Alaska. A subcommittee was appointed to specifically look at the development of a resolution asking the Governor to hold the regulations in abeyance. REPRESENTATIVE JERRY SANDERS said based on comments, letters and conversations, the subcommittee has developed a resolution for the committee to review. One of his primary guides comes in the sixth "Whereas" clause where it states, "The Commission on Postsecondary Education has no authority to conduct credit checks of any kind on potential borrowers." He said he believes this is a license to steal. Representative Sanders said he believes the resolution is appropriate and asked the committee members to give it their consideration. CHAIRMAN KOTT explained the resolution is a result of the testimony the committee heard on January 17. He said the resolution is on the table for comments. The resolution will be introduced as a House Labor and Commerce resolution. Number 230 Representative Porter arrived at 3:15 p.m. Several of the committee members stated they didn't have the resolution before them. A three minute recess was called by Chairman Kott at 3:15. Representatives Masek arrived at 3:17 p.m. CHAIRMAN KOTT called the meeting back to order at 3:18 p.m. He noted the committee would review the draft resolution and then have it put in final after the committee has reviewed it. REPRESENTATIVE KIM ELTON asked what the new name of the commission is and when the executive order takes effect. REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS said he believes it takes effect in 60 days. REPRESENTATIVE ELTON said he appreciates the sixth "Whereas" clause as long as the assumption isn't that they should begin credit checks. He stated he is concerned that a student that is applying, who is just out of high school, doesn't have a credit history. Sometimes the implication of a credit check is that if you have no credit history, your not eligible for the loan. REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS explained that is not the intent of including the clause in the resolution. REPRESENTATIVE KOTT suggested that after the word "credit," include "/reference checks". REPRESENTATIVE ELTON said he is comfortable hearing Representative Sanders say that is not the intent. He noted he wants to make sure that the committee members understand that is not the intent. Number 452 REPRESENTATIVE NORMAN ROKEBERG informed the committee he had a private meeting with Diane Barrans from the Postsecondary Education Commission. She questioned the statistics in the second "Whereas" clause. He said he doesn't think the inclusion of those statistics affects the resolution. He said he doesn't think the inclusion of the statistics will have an impact one way or another. He said he believes it would be better to delete the second "Whereas" unless the committee wants to restate it by indicating that the default rates are way over what they should be. CHAIRMAN KOTT said he doesn't have a problem in deleting the clause. REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS said he doesn't have a problem with deleting the clause if it is the wish of the committee. He said he would like to point out that the clause only affects one of the divisions. REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG asked if the resolution is asking the commission to rescind their action. REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS said the resolution asks them to rescind action in the implementation of 20 AAC 15.925. REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG said the committee had discussion about corrective statutory action. REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS said not statutory. There was discussion to rescind the actions that have already been taken and to direct the commissioner to work and consult with all affected parties to effect a satisfactory solution to all the issues arising from the student loan default rates. They have made an offer to do everything they possibly can to cooperate. Representative Sanders said the public would be better served in coming to an agreement on this rather than cutting out a certain number of schools. Number 698 CHAIRMAN KOTT said the committee did discuss holding those regulations in abeyance. He noted he isn't sure they identified a time specific date, but could certainly do that in the resolution. He said they are somewhat in a dilemma because there are statutes and, for whatever reason, now that those regulations are out on the street, the committee is asking the Governor to rescind them to a time uncertain. REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG suggested including wording in the resolution saying, "The concept that any new regulations not be retroactive in terms of accounting." He said that is one of the compromise solutions that has been discussed. They shouldn't count backwards, they should count forward. REPRESENTATIVE BRIAN PORTER said what the committee wants to say is not to rescind the regulations but to rescind the implementation of the regulations. He referred to the "Therefore" clause and read, "affected parties to effect a satisfactory resolution of all issues arising out of student loan default rates" and suggested adding, "and to craft a more equitable regulation." Number 879 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON said he would go even further. The problem he has isn't the time frame, it is the fact that it is a done regulation in the way in which they are going to do it. If they want to get where their going, they are not giving an opportunity for the schools to move in that direction because of the way they implement 150 percent. Representative Elton suggested the committee just say to rescind it and revisit the issue. He referred to the second "Whereas" clause and said it should be kept in the resolution and should also be boosted. One thing that bothers him is if we have a problem with a private school with excessive bad debt in the student loan program and there is a problem with a public university with excessive bad debt, the problems are equal. He noted one of the problems he has with the regulation is it only treats half the symptom. Representative Elton referred to the "Therefore" clause and said he doesn't think there is a commissioner of Postsecondary Education. The board members may be called commissioners so they may want to add an "s" to commission or change the word to "commission." REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS asked if there is a director. REPRESENTATIVE ELTON said the executive director reports to the commission. He said what bothers him about the regulation is it seems unfair to say, "We're gonna fix your problem but we're going to ignore the problems elsewhere." He said he believes he has heard 18 percent of the universities who have students that participate in the program have a loan default rate that is in excess of 150. He said he doesn't want the implication to be that they are only interested in part of the problem. REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS said it depends on whether your counting dollars or people. If your counting people, then it's larger in the private sector. If your counting dollars, it's larger in the university sector. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER asked if the Governor can direct or request the commission to do things. REPRESENTATIVE ELTON said they serve at his pleasure. REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS said "request" is probably appropriate. REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG asked if the regulations are currently in effect. CHAIRMAN KOTT said he believes they are in effect. He said the second "Whereas" clause will be left in place as it does point out the differences. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER referred to the "Therefore" clause and said they should change the word "direct" to "request" on the second and fifth lines. Also on the fifth line, change "commissioner" to "commission." CHAIRMAN KOTT asked if there was any discussion on rescinding the regulations altogether. REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG said they could do that by deleting "its actions on implementing," in the "Therefore" clause on the third line after the word "rescind." CHAIRMAN KOTT said it will then read, "Therefore, be it resolved that the legislature requests the Governor of the state of Alaska to request the Commission on Postsecondary Education to take action to rescind," and strike "its action on implementing." After "Default Rates." insert "craft more equitable regulation". Number 1211 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON suggested that maybe they don't have to pass the resolve because the Postsecondary Education Commission acted on legislative intent that didn't pass anyway. Maybe introducing this resolve is going to accomplish what is needed. CHAIRMAN KOTT noted that the resolution was not noticed in the committee schedule so there wouldn't be a motion. He said it is a curtesy call for the committee members to have input. He noted Representatives Sanders, Masek and Kubina promulgated the resolution and as soon as the drafters can put the resolution in its final format, it will be introduced as a House resolution by the House Labor and Commerce Committee. HB 311 - REPEAL LIMIT ON HOURS EMPLOYED IN MINES Number 1282 CHAIRMAN KOTT announced the committee would hear HB 311. He pointed out the measure is sponsored by Representative Vezey. Chairman Kott said it is his intent to allow for opening remarks by Representative Vezey. There will be no testimony. He said there are a couple issues that are being worked on. The bill will be back before the committee within two weeks at which point it will be moved to the Judiciary Committee. REPRESENTATIVE AL VEZEY, sponsor of HB 311, "An Act repealing the limitation on the hours a person may be employed in a mine; and making a related technical amendment to avoid changing the penalties for failing to make payments into an employee benefit fund," addressed the bill. He explained what is being addressed is the statute deals with a law that limits the number of hours in a 24-hour period that a person can work in an underground mine. This law was one of the first laws passed by the Territory of Alaska when it formed the Territorial Legislature in 1913. It was carried over into the ACLA in 1949. Representative Vezey noted he wasn't sure what ACLA stands for but something like the Alaska Code of Legislative Acts. It was also carried into Alaska statutes at the time of statehood. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY explained in 1913 when the bill was passed, mining was a very big industry and a very hazardous occupation. We didn't have wage and hour laws which currently exist. We didn't have the occupational safety and health standards that currently exist. The equipment, by today's standards, was primitive in terms of it being adapted to workmen and whatnot. The environment was extremely hazardous. Representative Vezey said it is unbelievable how bad it can be to work in a confined space. You can't imagine what it's like to be working with air driven tools in a space that does not have adequate ventilation. At that time, it was a nationally recognized problem that serious health problems existed. A disease called "silicosis" existed which is similar to black lung. It is a very serious debilitating injury. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY explained in 1913, the state passed this law which had two effects. One was safety, in that the people were not exposed to the workplace environment as long as they were. He said 10-hour days was the industry standard, in Alaska, at that time. It also had the affect of giving a pay raise. They didn't have wage and hour laws in 1913. People were paid by the day. He noted in the committee member's folders there is a copy of a report titled, "Report of the Territorial Mine Inspector to the Governor of Alaska for the Year 1917." The report discusses the daily wage rates, etc. He noted that after the 8-hour day went into effect in 1913, the state adopted a general 8-hour day in 1917, because the idea of the 8-hour day was getting popular. The mining industry went through a unbelievable number of adaptations in almost a century as this happened almost that long ago. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY explained today, we have gotten to a point where government agencies are even encouraging companies to go to longer shifts and to give the employees flexibility in their hours so that they can work more hours in a day and have longer weekends at home. It is very interesting to note that if you look at the ten leading mining states in the nation, only two have a number of restrictions on the number of hours that personnel can work underground. One is Alaska, which has an 8-hour law. The other is California which also has an 8-hour law except you can, by permit, receive an exemption for a 12-hour day. Colorado also has a permit system where you can work more than eight hours a day but there are no limits to the number of hours that you can get a permit for. You just have to get the permit approved. Representative Vezey referred to the other seven leading mining states not having any sort of restrictions on the number of hours that can be worked underground. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY said in 1992, the U.S. Department of the Interior, under Secretary Bruce Babbitt, did a study that compared 8-hour shifts and underground mines to 12-hour shifts in underground mines. The conclusion was that the 12-hour shift was not a safety hazard and it did contribute to the quality of the job as perceived by the employees. About 97 percent actually preferred it. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY referred to the safety aspect and explained the mining industry in Alaska has a measured accident rate of 1.9. That is down from two a year or two ago. That means there are two loss time accidents for every 100 man years of employment. He noted 200,000 man hours are classified as a man year. This is among the lowest of any industry in Alaska and is way below the industry standards for the U.S. By comparison in Alaska, the construction industry in total has a loss time accident rate of 5.6. So mining is nearly three times as safe as is the construction industry as a whole. Representative Vezey said studies have determined that there are two most important aspects of on the job safety. One is the continuity of employment. Employees who are on the job on a steady basis are much less likely to have an accident than employees that come and go. The other factor is overall worker satisfaction with their job. That has a very measurable significant impact on overall job safety. He noted those things seem to go hand in hand with working longer shifts and having longer weekends so the workers have more time with their families. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY said the concept of trying to repeal or modify this law has been around for many years. It is interesting to note that former Juneau Mayor Jamie Parsons endorsed modifying this act. Current Fairbanks Mayor Jim Sampson and former commissioner of the Department of Labor, endorsed modifying it at one time. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY read from a 1987 letter in the committee member's folders from Virgil A. Cain, Supervisor, Mine Safety and Health, U.S. Department of Labor, Rocky Mountain Region: "This letter deals with the working hours of the employees. About five year ago, one large mine in my area changed from the eight hours a day, five days a week with two days off to a four day a week, ten hours a day. On the eight hours a day, five days a week, the company had quite a few lost time accidents. After the change to ten hour shifts, four days a week, this company went five months without any accidents and compiled one of the best mining accident records for its size of any mine I have ever had any dealings with. "Just recently this same mine under new management went back to a eight hour day, five days a week and the lost time accidents increased five to six hundred percent." REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY noted there is also a report from the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Mines, "Underground Work Days in an Underground Mine - A Workplace Performance Analysis." He explained the report reiterates that there are a lot of advantages to a longer work day. Representative Vezey said we have to look at those states that do have a viable mining industry. Alaska mining industry has doubled in the last ten years. There is no practical limit on how big it can get. We have the geology and the area. It is a question of the environment that we can create to attract a caval. He reiterated that of the states that have a viable mining industry, only two have any restrictions on the hours people can work in underground mines and they restrict that by permit. It is not a flat 8-hour restriction. Representative Vezey explained there are only three states in the U.S. that have an 8-hour limit. He noted two are Alaska and Montana. Number 1823 CHAIRMAN KOTT referred to the states that have gone to something other than an 8-hour day and asked if there is a trend as to what they seem to be following on the average. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY said the trend seems to be to repeal it or to not have one at all. There are probably six or eight states that have a permitting process where you have to apply for more than an 8-hour day. California has a maximum of 12 hours. The other states have no maximum on that permit process. Number 1898 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER noted that there isn't this 8-hour restriction in Alaska for digging a tunnel but there is for mining in the tunnel. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY said that is correct. This only applies to mining and has never been applied to tunnel. The Whittier Tunnel, Bradley Lake Tunnel and the Snettisham Tunnel were all constructed without the 8-hour restriction. CHAIRMAN KOTT said it is the intent to hold the bill in committee to allow all the parties that are interested in the measure to develop their discourse. REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG asked if there was a problem with the bill. CHAIRMAN KOTT said there is not a problem, but there are some entities that are trying to work behind the scenes to try to finalize the numbers. He said he would assume that at some point there is a break point where it does become hazardous. He said he could envision working three 16-hour days, eight hours overtime, could be a tough haul after the second day. CHAIRMAN KOTT asked Representative Porter if police departments allow 16-hour days. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER answered they do. Number 1982 REPRESENTATIVE GENE KUBINA asked if overtime laws would come into effect after eight hours. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER said a 10-hour shift is an acceptable alternative to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) retirements for overtime after eight hours if your working 40 hours a week. REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS said he envisions there would be a lot of variation from mine to mine. He said he would rather endorse applying for an exception by certain mines. If the regulation is just eliminated, there might be some danger in some of the mines. CHAIRMAN KOTT said the committee would take public testimony at another meeting on the issue. CHAIRMAN KOTT stated there has been request to hold HB 319 over until the following week. ADJOURNMENT Number 2134 CHAIRMAN KOTT adjourned the House Labor and Commerce meeting at 3:55 p.m.