Legislature(2005 - 2006)CAPITOL 106

02/14/2006 11:00 AM EDUCATION

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Moved CSHB 387(EDU) Out of Committee
Moved Out of Committee
+= Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
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                                                               
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.                                                                                           

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