Legislature(1995 - 1996)
03/18/1996 03:35 PM RES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SENATE RESOURCES COMMITTEE March 18, 1996 3:35 p.m. MEMBERS PRESENT Senator Loren Leman, Chairman Senator Drue Pearce, Vice Chairman Senator Steve Frank Senator Rick Halford Senator Robin Taylor Senator Georgianna Lincoln Senator Lyman Hoffman MEMBERS ABSENT All members present COMMITTEE CALENDAR SENATE BILL NO. 201 "An Act relating to the employment of emergency fire-fighting personnel by the commissioner of natural resources." SENATE BILL NO. 215 "An Act streamlining the functions of state government, including authorizing the commissioner of fish and game to award grants for certain resource activities; allowing agents selling fish and game licenses and tags to retain certain compensation; authorizing the Department of Health and Social Services to award grants for certain services for developmentally delayed or disabled children; relating to rabies control and administration of flour and bread standards by the Department of Environmental Conservation; repealing the Athletic Commission, the regulation of boxing and wrestling, the certification of professional geologists, and the Water Resources Board; repealing certain filing statements and bonds for enforcement and collection of certain taxes; and providing for an effective date." PREVIOUS SENATE COMMITTEE ACTION SB 201 - No previous action to record. SB 215 - No previous action to record. WITNESS REGISTER Senator Georgianna Lincoln State Capitol Juneau, AK 99801-1182 POSITION STATEMENT: Prime Sponsor of SB 201 George Yaska Tanana Chiefs Conference, Inc. 122 1st Ave. Fairbanks, AK POSITION STATEMENT: Testified in support of CSSB 201(RES) Craig Goodrich, State Fire Marshall Division of Fire Prevention Department of Public Safety 5700 E. Tudor Road Anchorage, AK 99507-1225 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified in support of CSSB 201(RES) Ray Shinn, Chitna Traditional Village Council P.O. Box 129 Glennallen, AK 99588 POSITION STATEMENT: Supports CSSB 201(RES) Tom Boutin, State Forester Division of Forestry Department of Natural Resources 400 Willoughby Ave., 3rd Floor Juneau, AK 99801-1724 POSITION STATEMENT: Offered information on CSSB 201(RES) Nico Bus, Acting Director Division of Support Services Department of Natural Resources 400 Willoughby Ave. Juneau, AK 99801-1724 POSITION STATEMENT: Offered information on CSSB 201(RES) and SB 215 Geron Bruce, Legislative Liaison Department of Fish & Game P.O. Box 25526 Juneau, AK 99811-5526 POSITION STATEMENT: Explained Sections 1 - 4 of SB 215 Kevin Brooks, Director Division of Administrative Services Department of Fish & Game P.O. Box 25526 Juneau, AK 99811-5526 POSITION STATEMENT: Explained Section 10 of SB 215 ACTION NARRATIVE TAPE 96-31, SIDE A Number 001 SB 201 FIRE FIGHTING PERSONNEL EMPLOYMENT CHAIRMAN LEMAN called the Senate Resources Committee meeting to order at 3:35 p.m. He introduced SB 201 as the first order of business and noted there was a proposed committee substitute for the committee's consideration. GEORGE YASKA , representing the Tanana Chiefs Conference, testified in support for SB 201. He said it is an issue that has been near to his heart and the fire fighters in the southern region (DNR's jurisdiction) for some years. He said it always good to do preventative work, and he thinks SB 201 does that very well. Mr. Yaska related that he fought fires for many years in the past, and in extremely heavy fire-fighting years they could have greatly benefited from preventative work being done in the low fire- fighting years. Most of the time that work isn't done primarily because the statute doesn't allow emergency fire-fighting crews for non-wildfire suppression. Number 105 SENATOR TAYLOR moved CSSB 201(RES), draft "C," dated 2/10/96 be adopted. Hearing no objection, the Chairman stated the committee substitute was before the committee as a working document. SENATOR LINCOLN , prime sponsor of SB 201, explained the only difference in the committee substitute was a clarifying sentence added on page 2, line 2, which reads: "The assignment of emergency fire-fighting personnel to nonemergency activities may not be used to replace permanent or seasonal state employees." Senator Lincoln said the legislation was introduced to provide the Department of Natural Resource with the authority to utilize emergency fire-fighting employees for fire management, fire suppression and fire prevention activities by adding a new subsection to AS 41.15.030. Existing law authorizes the commissioner to hire fire-fighting personnel, but does not expressly authorize their use for fire prevention, hazard reduction, or other related activities. SB 201 would clarify that emergency fire-fighting personnel could be employed by the department in nonemergency circumstances to construct and maintain fire breaks and trails, remove brush and timber, conduct prescribed burns and improve wildlife habitat. The enactment of the bill into law also will ensure the Department of Natural Resources to take advantage of existing federal money for nonemergency fire prevention projects. In FY 95, the Division of Forestry received approval to receive and expend up to $500,000 in federal receipts to supply emergency fire-fighting crews to federal agencies on a reimbursable basis. Presently, of the $500,000 that is available through federal money, the Department of Natural Resources has already identified projects totaling $250,000. SB 201 would enable these federal dollars to be utilized by the already trained fire-fighting crews for the projects that are identified. Senator Lincoln said she thinks the impact of the bill is a very positive one on the state with having up to half a million dollars of federal money coming into the state, as well as a positive impact on the state's resources. Number 217 CHAIRMAN LEMAN noted the bill carries zero fiscal notes, but he wondered how there can be no fiscal impact when the commissioner's authority for hiring is expanded. SENATOR LINCOLN responded that it doesn't expend any money; it brings federal money in. SENATOR TAYLOR also questioned if there shouldn't be a fiscal note when their is an expenditure of federal funds. NICO BUS , Acting Director, Division of Support Services, Department of Natural Resources, clarified that the reason there is not a fiscal note is because the legislation does not mandate that the department do anything. It gives the department the statutory authority to utilize the federal funds for emergency fire-fighting personnel for fire prevention and other activities. He added that the language would also allow them to use state money, if appropriated, but there is no money appropriated for that. CHAIRMAN LEMAN asked if the department is now doing any fire suppression, hazard reduction, fire prevention, habitat restoration, etc., without this explicit authorization. MR. BUS responded they currently do certain forest management functions, but they do not use emergency fire crews to perform these functions. SENATOR HALFORD questioned how this applies to the fire suppression fund. SENATOR LINCOLN responded it is her understanding that the fire suppression dollars are for just that; SB 201 clarifies that the department can use and extend the federal funds for other related fire prevention. Number 322 CRAIG GOODRICH , State Fire Marshall, Division of Fire Prevention, Department of Public Safety, testifying from Anchorage, said the state of Alaska expends between $350,000,000 and $400,000,000 a year on fire and fire suppression related issues, a portion of that being wild land. He said he thinks it is very easy to overlook the value of fire prevention efforts and activities, and he can see nothing in this bill that does more than allow for that to happen. The bill does nothing but benefit the residents of the state and those bush communities. He voiced support for the legislation by the department, the State Fire Chiefs Association and the State Fire Fighters Association. RAY SHINN , Director of Natural Resources for the Chitna Traditional Village Council, as well as manager of the Taslina Hot Shots, testified from Glennallen in support of SB 201. He said this is something they have been doing for the past 15 years, and there are numerous spin-off benefits when something like is done with the emergency fire-fighting crews throughout the state. TOM BOUTIN , State Forester, Division of Forestry, Department of Natural Resources, related there are 73 of the 16-person emergency fire-fighting crews in the state. The Division of Forestry manages 46 of them and the balance is managed by the Bureau of Land Management's Alaska Fire Service. Also, the Fire Service has two 20-person hot shot crews, as well as Ray Shinn's type one crew. Each crew is autonomous; the 16-person crew is normally from a single village. The average wage, including overtime, paid to emergency fire fighters in 1995 was $12.76 an hour. He pointed out that these fire-fighting crews are also sent outside the state where there is much demand for them when there is a high fire season. The reports the division gets from the Lower 48 is that these crews are very hard working, well trained, cost effective and very safe. Mr. Boutin also noted that these crews are called out on a rotational basis, so no one agency's crews are favored. He said in concept and in practice, that probably should eliminate the concern that anybody might have that it's an incentive for someone to originate a fire in order to get work since the rotational basis would mean that a crew in one part of the state wouldn't necessarily be the crew that would fight a fire in that part of the state. CHAIRMAN LEMAN asked how Alaska's crews compare with crews outside of Alaska. MR. BOUTIN related that a report comes back with every single incident, and the Lower 48 states and the federal agencies really can't say enough good about the crews that are sent out. Some crews were sent to the Yukon this past year and the governor and commissioner received letters back saying what a good account those people gave of themselves. Number 470 SENATOR HALFORD said in the first section of the bill the exemption for the personnel is basically an exemption of the whole State Personnel Act and that exemption is based on the emergency nature of fire fighting, etc. He expressed concern about going around the personnel act for essentially year-round employees doing year-round work, and he wondered if the Department of Labor had looked at this legislation. SENATOR LINCOLN replied that she thinks the language added in the committee substitute addresses his concern, and that there was some involvement by the Department of Labor in the legislation. SENATOR HALFORD asked if there is a way to draft the legislation so that it would cover only federal money. MR. BOUTIN responded that there is, but in order to use state money, there would have to be an appropriation made by the legislature. SENATOR FRANK said his only concern is that some previous governors have declared emergencies and then had the authority to spend any monies in the state treasury, as well as municipal monies. MR. BOUTIN clarified the intent is to be able to use these emergency fire fighters, which are the 16-person autonomous crews, for work in addition to fire suppression as there might be a demand out there, such as the prescribed burn on the Kenai moose range. SENATOR HALFORD said there is a special mechanism that allows the fire suppression fund to go forward outside of its own limits and outside of the amount of money that's there, and he and Senator Frank are concerned that there not be an automatic appropriating mechanism attached to this bill. SENATOR LINCOLN reiterated that this was not the intent of the legislation and she does not read the language that way, but if there was a way to modify the language to address their concern, she would not have a problem with that. SENATOR FRANK pointed out the bill would be going to the Finance Committee and they could take a closer look at it there. Number 545 SENATOR TAYLOR moved that CSSB 201(RES) be passed out of committee with individual recommendations. CHAIRMAN LEMAN objected and stated he wanted to hold the bill until the next meeting in order to take a closer look at the fiscal notes because there is question as to whether they meet the requirements for fiscal notes on bills. SENATOR TAYLOR withdrew his motion to pass CSSB 201(RES) out of committee. Number 575 SB 215 OMNIBUS STATE AGENCY OPERATONS & PROGRAM CHAIRMAN LEMAN brought SB 215 before the committee as the next order of business. He stated the committee would be dealing with only Sections 1 - 4 and Sections 9 and 10 of the bill. GERON BRUCE , Legislative Liaison, Department of Fish and Game, addressing Section 1 - 4, said there are basically two provisions in those sections that this legislation accomplishes. Section one provides the Department of Fish and Game with authority to award grants for protecting, maintaining, improving, or extending fish, game, or aquatic plant resources of the state. TAPE 96-31, SIDE B Number 001 Sections 2, 3 and 4 deal with the streamlining of vendor compensation for the sale of recreational hunting and fishing licenses and crew member licenses. The vendors receive some compensation which is intended to defray the costs of the service they provide. Right now, the vendors receive the compensation in a two-stage process: (1) they get to retain five percent up front; and (2) they receive payment for additional compensation later. He said the legislation will allow the vendors to retain the total value of the compensation at the same time rather than it being a two-step process. Number 015 CHAIRMAN LEMAN asked if the $50 per year threshold was to entice vendors to offer the service. MR. BRUCE answered that it has been there for a long time, and he doesn't recollect the original cause for setting it there, but he thought it was intended to provide at least a minimum level of compensation for people that were doing this as a service. Number 030 SENATOR PEARCE , in referring to Section 1, said she thought the legislation was giving extremely broad authority, and she asked what can't the department do now that they want to be able to do through this legislation. MR. BRUCE explained that the department would like to be able to participate in partnerships with private land owners, particularly along the Kenai River where they are interested in improving the river front edge of their property in a manner that is habitat friendly for fish. The department cannot currently, other than through a competitive bid process, get money to a private land owner. They have been going through a federal agency, which has that authority, and they have been passing the money through to a local property owner based on a set of criteria that the property owner must meet in order to receive the money. It is a 50/50 match with 50 percent of the funding coming from the state and the land owner providing the other 50 percent. The funding the department is currently using to do these kinds of projects comes from two sources: (1) criminal settlement monies relating to the Exxon Valdez disaster; and (2) money from the National Marine Fisheries Service. The department has allocated a portion of those monies to go toward these kind of projects. SENATOR PEARCE said as she recalls, the legislature already gave the department specific authority to pass those monies to local governments and it could then be granted to private citizens. MR. BRUCE agreed that a portion of the money did go to the Kenai Peninsula Borough for some work there, but the remaining funds did not go to them. They did not get a mechanism within the department to work with private land owners. He added that the projects in the program have been very popular and very successful. Number 120 SENATOR TAYLOR expressed his continuing concern about habitat enhancement on the Kenai River, particularly at flood time when the river changes its course drastically. He questioned if there was a rationale here and an overall plan. MR. BRUCE replied the department is looking at the long range, recognizing that the river does flood, and they are trying to develop ways of protecting private property and maintaining the fish productivity of the river for the long term. He said the Kenai has attracted so much attention because if a very well known, highly regarded, highly visited river that has some spectacular fishing opportunities, but that doesn't mean to say that it is the only river in the state that should get attention. Number 200 MR. BRUCE discussed various methods being used for stream stabilization, such as revegatation, constructing structures that prevent erosion, floating docks instead of fixed docks, etc. He also informed the members that he would provide them with an evaluation sheet of all the different projects that private land owners applied for this year. Number 255 SENATOR TAYLOR asked what part of natural erosion and geology does the Department of Fish and Game not understand. MR. BRUCE acknowledged that there are natural forces that will overwhelm even the best human efforts, but he said he thinks there a lot of other less extreme conditions that we can influence and we can mitigate. CHAIRMAN LEMAN noted he has looked at different habitat enhancement projects in other states that have been quite successful and at a fairly low cost. He suggested those are the types of projects the department should be looking at. MR. BRUCE said what they are doing right now is just one option, but this is an area that has a lot of potential for fine tuning for particular circumstances both for the habitat and the financial resources available. He added that right now they have to go through another agency to award these grants, which means overhead, and they believe it would be more efficient to be able to do it within the Department of Fish & Game. CHAIRMAN LEMAN said he'd like to see the department do innovative things with these projects that will maximize the use of the dollars, such as using volunteers, or using prison inmates, etc. Number 400 KEVIN BROOKS , Director, Division of Administrative Services, Department of Fish and Game, speaking to Section 10, said the first two repealers in that section apply to Fish and Game. The cites of Title 16 are repealers for the fish and game licensing statutes as they currently read for vendor compensation. CHAIRMAN LEMAN asked how many vendors would be affected if the $50 per year compensation in Section 2 were deleted or reduced. MR. BROOKS replied it could be in the area of a couple hundred vendors; there are 1,400 vendors statewide. He said he agreed with the Chairman's earlier comment that it serves as an enticement, especially in the more remote areas. Number 505 NICO BUS , Acting Director, Division of Support Services, Department of Natural Resources, speaking to Section 9, explained the repealers (AS 46.15.190 - AS 46.15.240) repeal the Water Resource Board, which has not been funded or held meetings for three years. SENATOR TAYLOR expressed his concern that it is his understanding that there are 4,000 permit applications awaiting action on water rights. MR. BUS acknowledged there is a backlog, but he wasn't sure the 4,000 figure was correct. He said the Division of Mining and Water Management handles those applications and they are working hard to process the applications in order to get rid of the backlog. He noted the Water Resource Board is strictly an advisory board and they do not handle those applications. He also pointed out that a lot of the applications are renewals, and one of the things the department is looking at is changing it from a yearly renewal requirement to renewing every five or ten years. Number 550 CHAIRMAN LEMAN asked if there are some overlapping responsibilities with the Soil and Water Conservation Board and the Water Resource Board. MR. BUS said the Soil and Water Conservation Board is basically advising the commissioner and the governor on local area districts, and he thought expanding their role could be looked at. There being no further testimony on SB 215 CHAIRMAN LEMAN asked for the pleasure of the committee. SENATOR PEARCE moved that Section 1 be deleted from SB 215. CHAIRMEN LEMAN objected. A hand vote was taken with the following result: Senators Halford, Taylor and Pearce voted "Yea" and Chairman Leman voted "Nay." The Chairman stated the motion carried. SENATOR HALFORD moved that CSSB 215(RES) and the accompanying fiscal notes be passed out of committee with individual recommendations. Hearing no objection, it was so ordered. TAPE 96-32, SIDE A Number 001 There being no further business to come before the committee, the meeting was adjourned at 5:05 p.m.