04/18/2007 02:00 PM HEALTH, EDUCATION & SOCIAL SERVICES
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ALASKA STATE LEGISLATURE SENATE HEALTH, EDUCATION AND SOCIAL SERVICES STANDING COMMITTEE April 18, 2007 2:07 p.m. MEMBERS PRESENT Senator Bettye Davis, Chair Senator Joe Thomas, Vice Chair Senator John Cowdery Senator Kim Elton Senator Fred Dyson MEMBERS ABSENT All members present OTHER LEGISLATORS PRESENT Representative Andrea Doll COMMITTEE CALENDAR SENATE BILL NO. 150 "An Act relating to an aggravating factor at sentencing for crimes committed at certain shelters and facilities." MOVED SB 150 OUT OF COMMITTEE SENATE BILL NO. 8 "An Act relating to a mental health patient's right to choose the gender of hospital staff providing intimate care to the mental health patient and to the duties of hospital staff in caring for patients receiving mental health treatment." HEARD AND HELD PREVIOUS COMMITTEE ACTION BILL: SB 150 SHORT TITLE: CRIMES AT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SHELTERS SPONSOR(s): SENATOR(s) DAVIS 03/30/07 (S) READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRALS 03/30/07 (S) HES, JUD 04/18/07 (S) HES AT 2:00 PM BELTZ 211 BILL: SB 8 SHORT TITLE: MENTAL HEALTH PATIENT RIGHTS:STAFF GENDER SPONSOR(s): SENATOR(s) DAVIS 01/16/07 (S) PREFILE RELEASED 1/5/07
01/16/07 (S) READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRALS
01/16/07 (S) HES, JUD, FIN WITNESS REGISTER Donne Fleagle, intern to Chair Davis Alaska State Capitol Juneau, AK POSITION STATEMENT: Presented SB 150 Jerry Luckhaupt, legislative counsel Legislative Legal and Research Services Division Legislative Affairs Agency Juneau, AK POSITION STATEMENT: Testified on SB 150 Chris Ashenbrenner, Interim Program Administrator Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Juneau, AK POSITION STATEMENT: In favor of SB 150 Faith Meyers, representing herself Anchorage, AK POSITION STATEMENT: In favor of SB 150 Dorrance Collins, representing himself Anchorage, AK POSITION STATEMENT: In favor of SB 150 Sarah Lyn Tabachnik, executive director Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies Juneau, AK POSITION STATEMENT: In favor of SB 150 Holly Johanknecht, staff attorney Disability Law Center of Alaska Anchorage, AK POSITION STATEMENT: In favor of SB 150 Angela Solerno, advocacy coordinator Alaska Mental Health Board Juneau, AK POSITION STATEMENT: In favor of SB 150 ACTION NARRATIVE CHAIR BETTYE DAVIS called the Senate Health, Education and Social Services Standing Committee meeting to order at 2:07:17 PM. Present at the call to order were Senators Cowdery, Elton, Dyson, Thomas, and Chair Davis. SB 150-CRIMES AT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SHELTERS CHAIR BETTYE DAVIS announced SB 150 to be up for consideration. DONNE FLEAGLE, intern to Chair Davis, sponsor of SB 150, said that the bill was a response to an instance of domestic violence at a Juneau shelter. It will not solve the social ill of domestic abuse but will bring attention to it. Alaska has one of the highest rates of domestic abuse in the nation, and the legislation will give the courts the ability to hand down additional jail time for those who commit felonies on the premises of a shelter or facility providing aid to domestic or sexual assault victims. The language of the bill has been left intentionally broad to allow for different courts to determine their own definitions of facilities and services; the bill is not tied to specific facilities or programs. 2:10:51 PM SENATOR DYSON said that Juneau police have talked about wanting a safe haven to place underage prostitutes, like a shelter; he asked if they would be protected under SB 150. 2:12:36 PM JERRY LUCKHAUPT, legislative counsel for Legislative Legal and Research Services Division, asked Senator Dyson to repeat his question. SENATOR DYSON said that police would like to see 13 beds in shelters available for lodging underage prostitutes, and asked if they would be covered under the bill. JERRY LUCKHAUPT replied that the girls would be covered under the bill. SENATOR COWDERY asked if Anchorage is the city with the most assault incidences, and asked what security measures are in place as shelters. 2:14:06 PM MR. LUCKHAUPT said that shelters are secured with locked doors, but in many areas of Alaska they're not necessarily safer than a house. He said that the bill was written to cover large and small shelters. 2:15:21 PM SENATOR THOMAS asked if there's a requirement for a restraining order under the bill. MR. LUCKHAUPT replied that the bill applies to anyone convicted of a felony offense, which qualifies as an aggravating factor allowing the maximum offense penalty. CHAIR DAVIS pointed out that SB 150 is the companion bill to a house bill sponsored by Representative Andrea Doll. 2:17:03 PM LINDA STANFORD, program coordinator for Arctic Women In Crisis (AWIC) in Barrow, said that she supports the bill; people need to be held accountable for not respecting safe houses and shelters. Security should to be a primary goal; people who seek shelter are often very scared, and shelters provide safety for them. She related a story about past troubles with her shelter, and how they had a negative impact on the shelter's inhabitants. She explained the safety features of her building, and said that off-site safe-house volunteers are sometimes terrorized. 2:22:40 PM DON SHIRCEL, Director of Client Development for the Tanana Chiefs Conference, said that rural women and children don't have enough access to domestic violence aid; volunteers have little or no backup in case of an attack. SB 150 is a step in the right direction to protecting safe homes and shelters. 2:24:32 PM CHAIR DAVIS said that there has been no opposition to the bill, and it could possibly be moved out of committee that day. 2:25:11 PM CHRIS ASHENBRENNER, Interim Program Administrator for the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said that she was working at a Juneau shelter when an incident happened, and described the levels of security at that shelter and how the incident was traumatizing to everyone involved. There wasn't a sufficient punishment for the perpetrator; maybe such incidents wouldn't happen if people were aware of the penalty. 2:27:16 PM SENATOR COWDERY said that someone had suggested TASERs as a security measure for shelters, and commented that that could be a viable option for discouraging incidents. 2:28:34 PM MS. ASCHENBRENNER said that she will continue to look for ways to improve security. SARAH LYN TABACHNIK, Executive Director of Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies (AWARE) Juneau, said that women at shelters expect a certain level of safety; there's a need for increased security. She talked about a previous incident in Juneau and how frightening it was for all at the shelter in question. 2:30:20 PM CHAIR DAVIS asked Ms. Fleagle for closing remarks. MS. FLEAGLE said that the Department of Justice doesn't track aggravated assault crimes committed in shelters, nor any other entity. CHAIR DAVIS remarked that it was Ms. Fleagle's first bill before committee, and congratulated her. 2:31:48 PM SENATOR COWDERY made a motion to move SB 150 from committee with individual recommendations and attached fiscal note(s). There being no objection, the motion carried. SB 8-MENTAL HEALTH PATIENT RIGHTS:STAFF GENDER 2:32:56 PM CHAIR BETTY DAVIS announced SB 8 to be up for consideration. TOM OBERMEYER, aide to Chair Davis, sponsor of SB 8, explained that the bill will give mental health hospital patients the right to request a nurse of a specific gender. Many such patients have had traumatic experiences that would be exacerbated by treatment by a nurse of a specific gender. While the bill recognizes that such requests can not necessarily always be fulfilled, the request will go in a patient's file; this will prevent the information from being ignored or lost and will provide a record in case of resulting trauma. He added that there is a basic right of privacy cited in the Alaska constitution, and the bill is in line with this right. There is no fiscal ramification to the bill. 2:36:59 PM SENATOR COWDERY asked for detail on the current practices in such facilities. MR. OBERMEYER replied that the main issue of the bill is to attempt to have staff of both genders available in case the patient has been victimized by a person of a certain gender and does not wish to be treated by someone of that gender. Currently such requests are sometimes ignored; the bill provides for a record of the patient's request, so if trauma is determined to have happened later, the matter can be fully investigated. 2:39:34 PM SENATOR COWDERY remarked that the fiscal note impacts the Department of Corrections, and asked if the bill would affect any other departments. MR. OBERMEYER replied that all fiscal notes are zero, and said that the bill would be easily implemented with temporary staff. CHAIR DAVIS said that some health institutions use staff across different units, and that could serve as an example for how to implement this bill. 2:41:45 PM FAITH MEYERS, representing herself, said that she supports the bill and has had experience as a patient in mental health care facilities. Unnecessary trauma is a reality in health care facilities, and gender choice needs to be provided. The percentage of women in psychiatric facilities with a sexual abuse past is very high; people can feel re-victimized when treated intimately by a person of a certain gender. Change needs to be made in state statutes. She then cited several letters from people and institutions supporting gender choice in intimate psychiatric care. 2:46:38 PM DORRANCE COLLINS, representing himself, said that he supports the bill; not giving a gender choice in psychiatric care staff can be traumatizing to the patient. Many other states require such a choice in their hospitals and psychiatric treatment facilities. He cited a recent court decision that concerned patient abuse, and said that gender choice is a right of patients. Many psychiatric patients have been sexually or physically abused, and being denied gender choice in intimate care staff creates trauma all over again. No loopholes should be added to the bill. 2:49:42 PM CHAIR DAVIS remarked that a representative from legal services was available for questions on the bill. HOLLY JOHANKNECHT, staff attorney with the Disability Law Center of Alaska, said that the Alaska constitution recognizes the rights of mental health patients and the bill would codify existing rights; other states have similar legislation for protecting patient rights. A large number of psychiatric patients have a history of physical or sexual abuse, and they need to be offered a choice of nurse gender to prevent re- traumatization. The rights offered by SB 8 are already offered to prisoners. 2:52:50 PM ANGELA SOLERNO, advocacy coordinator for the Alaska Mental Health Board, said that there was a letter from the board chair before the committee and that she agreed with the prior testimony; the bill will afford a psychiatric patient respect and dignity at a time of stress and change. It's a reasonable expectation for a hospital and allows for the impossibility of fulfilling the request. CHAIR DAVIS thanked the presenters and said that no action could be taken on the bill at that time because of the lack of a quorum; the bill would be scheduled for another hearing shortly. There being no further business to come before the committee, she adjourned the meeting at 2:55:52 PM.