Legislature(2005 - 2006)CAPITOL 106
02/14/2006 11:00 AM EDUCATION
Download Mp3. <- Right click and save file as
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 412-TUITION WAIVERS:MILITARY/POLICE/FIRE 12:03:10 PM CHAIR NEUMAN announced that the final order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 412, "An Act relating to the waiver of undergraduate expenses for a spouse or dependent of a deceased resident peace officer or member of the armed services or fire department." 12:03:19 PM REPRESENTATIVE JAY RAMRAS, Alaska State Legislature, speaking as sponsor of HB 412, said that he represents District 10 in Fairbanks, 55 percent of which are from Fort Wainwright where 3,800 are active duty military that are presently deployed to Iraq as part of the Stryker Brigade [Combat Team]." He noted the recent loss of four Alaska National Guard members and highlighted the benefit HB 412 would provide to the [spouses or dependents of deceased peace officers, members of the armed services, or fire department] in not only waiving undergraduate expenses for tuition [as currently provided] but covering room and board as well. He said he would address his concerns with the fiscal note upon request. 12:05:30 PM REPRESENTATIVE GATTO referred to language on page 1, lines 13-14 and page 2, line 1, which says, "who died from an act arising out of and in the course of employment as a peace officer or a fire fighter" and asked whether a fatal heart attack suffered by someone in one of those professions while hunting on vacation could be claimed as a result of employment. He said that "this is the kind of situation that came up in the fire department at great length about what is [specifically] covered" and is referred to as the heart-lung clause: "if indeed you are in Plan 1 then the heart-lung clause applied until you died, if you're in Plan 2, it applied for seven years, and in Plan 3 it may not have applied at all." REPRESENTATIVE RAMRAS informed the committee that HB 412 adds only seven words - "and on-campus room and board costs" - to the existing statute, AS 14.43.085. Referring to the section of the bill that Representative Gatto questioned, he said he "doesn't care to take issue with the balance of the language in the statute" and that his primary concern is fulfilling a benefit for [the families] of those who "give their life to this country when we are at war" by adding those seven words. 12:07:42 PM REPRESENTATIVE GATTO opined that the bill is not just seven words and that the entire bill should be considered. He said he wants to know exactly what Representative Ramras' intent is when adding a line that increases the benefits for a group by $10,000 per person. He said that he thinks it's a great idea, but if existing language is being used in the current bill, he would like knowing how it may have affected the qualification of some people and not others. REPRESENTATIVE RAMRAS said he only has an opinion on the seven words inserted on line 7, Section 1. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO, referring to page 2, line 2, asked whether it was necessary to address volunteer fire fighters separately from any other fire fighter. REPRESENTATIVE RAMRAS reiterated that he does not have an opinion about that above fulfilling the promise of the benefit to primarily "active duty military and National Guard [members]." He said he is "trying to speak on behalf of 3,800 deployed soldiers from the Stryker Brigade who are in harm's way every single day ...." CHAIR NEUMAN reminded the committee that the majority of [HB 412] is already in statute. 12:10:15 PM REPRESENTATIVE THOMAS asked whether it would be possible to extend the tuition benefits to include the "significant others" of those who died in service. REPRESENTATIVE RAMRAS expressed his belief that this bill is "very appropriately and very narrowly defined" and does not extend to "promises or the intent of marriage." He then expressed his concern regarding the fiscal note and his reluctance to have it expanded to provide [benefits to significant others] as well. REPRESENTATIVE THOMAS stated that he had "no problem" with the fiscal note and that anyone serving in the line of duty "deserves anything they can get." However, he said that he was still sympathetic to the "significant other" and suggested that perhaps the legislature could determine a way to include this group as well. 12:12:18 PM REPRESENTATIVE WILSON opined that including on-campus room and board costs would be a significant benefit to those who lost their spouse in the line of service and find themselves alone supporting children. She said she "likes this bill." REPRESENTATIVE GARA, in response to Representative Thomas's point on including nonfamily members, suggested having a needs- based financial aid system available to everyone who wants to go to college or to a vocational school. To the sponsor, he asked why children who lost a parent in other professions shouldn't receive a similar benefit. 12:14:40 PM REPRESENTATIVE RAMRAS opined that Representative Gara's question is not germane to this bill, which is "about well over 4,000 ... Alaskan soldiers who are presently deployed to Iraq who are putting themselves ... in harm's way every day." He said he doesn't want the bill "distracted by a lot of other issues." He informed the committee that the casualty rate in Iraq is estimated between 3 and 6 percent and because of the nature of the Stryker Brigade mission, Alaska casualties will be on the higher end of that range. He explained that this could mean, at 6 percent of the approximately 4,000 deployed soldiers, 240 men or women would be wounded or killed in action. He further noted that Alaska has had over 80 wounded people at Fort Wainwright since the deployment last August and there have been several who have died since. REPRESENTATIVE LYNN opined that he did not wish the bill to be diverted by addressing "significant others" and that it should address "legally recognized relationships" only. 12:17:19 PM REPRESENTATIVE WILSON moved to report HB 412 out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes. There being no objection, HB 412 was reported from the House Special Committee on Education.