Legislature(1997 - 1998)
03/05/1997 01:40 PM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HOUSE BILL 13 "An Act relating to marine safety training and education programs." REPRESENTATIVE ALAN AUSTERMAN stated that the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA) has been operating in the State of Alaska for 12 years. The primary purpose of the organization is to reduce the loss of life and injury in the Alaskan marine environment by providing education through a statewide network of qualified marine safety instructors. AMSEA provides the safety training required by the Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Act of 1988 to communities throughout Alaska. The Act, which took effect in 1991, requires a minimum in safety training and equipment for commercial fishing vessels. Representative Austerman continued that AMSEA also helps Alaskans by providing marine safety instructor training, and that some of these teachers teach drill instructor courses. Other marine safety instructors also train the Alaska boating and fishing public, including many children and adults, in marine safety. Of the 7,300 people AMSEA trained in 1995, 2000 were from the commercial fishing industry and 3,700 were children. 2 According to a study conducted in 1995 by the Native Health Service, the AMSEA training significantly reduced fatalities among commercial fishermen, thus, coinciding with a 50% percent drop in fishing fatalities in Alaska over the past four years. Representative Austerman suggested that AMSEA deserves the State's intervention to ensure a long-term stable funding source. He pointed out that the Fishermen's Fund (AS 23.35.060) was created before statehood. One hundred percent of the fishermen's fund is provided by commercial fishing license fees. Sixty percent of license fees are dedicated to that fund. Since commercial fishermen are often the beneficiaries of the required marine safety training, it would be appropriate to allow part of the interest of that fund to be used to support some of AMSEA's marine safety programs. Representative Austerman pointed out that the note which passed out of the House Finance Committee last year was in the amount of $150 thousand dollars. The group would be comfortable with that amount, although, he pointed out that current interest earnings for the fund are in the amount of $450 thousand dollars. Representative Mulder asked if the program had considered a fee-based structure for funding. Representative Austerman requested that Mr. Dugan, the Executive Director of the program respond. Representative Martin asked the amount currently available in the fund. Representative Austerman replied that approximately $7.367 million dollars remains in the Fishermen's Fund. The Department of Treasury would be responsible for any investment. Co-Chair Therriault corrected that the current balance in the account was $9 million dollars. Representative G. Davis questioned why the fiscal note indicated only a 5.3% interest rate. JERRY DUGAN, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ALASKA MARINE SAFETY EDUCATION ASSOCIATION (AMSEA), PETERSBURG, responded to Representative Mulder explaining that AMSEA currently uses a fee-based structure for most of the provided training. A sliding scale fee is used, which varies depending upon the need. Most of the fees are used to pay the instructor and not to supplement the program. At the end of last year, the program was faced with a $50 thousand dollar budget, reducing the staff to one person to run the entire State program. In October, 1996, the program 3 received a federal grant increasing that budget, although, those funds end September 30, 1997. There is no guarantee of funding after that point. Representative J. Davies inquired about the needed amount. Mr. Dugan responded that the program would need $150 thousand dollars to stay "afloat". That amount would provide the core program and staff a 2.5 person office to coordinate, administer and instruct programs throughout the State. In response to Representative Davies, Mr. Dugan noted that his office had provided a budget detail sheet to Representative Austerman's office last year. A handout of the budget detail sheet was provided to Committee members. [Attachment on file]. Representative Mulder inquired the "range" of charges required of the communities. Mr. Dugan explained that the least amount would be free and only for a very needy group. The highest amount charged was $65/hour. Representative Mulder questioned the criteria used to determine if a group had "great need". Mr. Dugan stated that "great need" could be used to reference a commercial fishermen group under a federal deadline mandating the training before the fishing season had begun and before income had begun to come in. He suggested that a good example would be the Village of Angoon on Admiralty Island, an area with a high level of unemployment. Representative Mulder asked who was required to complete the AMSEA training. Mr. Dugan explained that fishermen on documented fishing vessels which fish in outside waters or beyond the western coast would be required. Representative Mulder questioned how the "children" aspect worked into the training. Mr. Dugan explained that marine safety is also taught to high school children who fish or crew on boats. For younger children, there is an abbreviated program to familiarize them with boating devices and safety procedures. Mr. Dugan continued, if someone were certified in the training, they would then be able to train others. That instruction would be beyond the regular level of instruction and is the core of the program. Representative Mulder observed that once a funding mechanism is in place, it becomes close to impossible to remove it from the books. Mr. Dugan pointed out with more instructors trained, the group then will be responsible to administer the programs. PAT HOLMES, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), FISHERMAN, 4 KODIAK, testified in support of the legislation. He pointed out that Alaska has ten times the national rate of drowning. Alaska is the only State which has no marine safety statutes or programs. AMSEA provides in Alaska, what many other states government's are mandated to provide. He emphasized how important the program is to the State. He pointed out that previous funding had been provided through grants, a program which now is "drying" up. He urged the Committee's support of the legislation. AL BURCH, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), KODIAK, voiced support of the legislation. He provided a brief history of fishing in Alaska. He spoke to the resistance that most fishermen have had toward a federal initiative to mandate training and how that attitude has changed through the many lives which have been saved because of the program. He urged that a portion of the interest on the Fishermen's Fund be used to further save lives. BILL BARKER, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), FISHERMAN, KODIAK, spoke in favor HB 13. He stressed that AMSEA's work saves lives and how important the training would be for the fishing communities. The program is an educational concern and would be appropriately funded through the Fishermen's Fund. Mr. Barker reiterated that the training saves lives. BARBARA BURCH, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), KODIAK FISHERMEN WIVES ASSOCIATION, KODIAK, testified in support of the legislation stressing the importance of the program. SUE HARGIS, UNITED STATES COAST GUARD (USCG), JUNEAU, noted support of the legislation. She noted the importance of the program as there are no other State programs which coordinate any type of boating efforts. She urged members to support the legislation. MARK JOHNSON, EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES (EMS), DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND SOCIAL SERVICES, voiced strong support of HB 13. Drowning in Alaska is a major public health problem; often there are more drownings in the State than there are deaths on public highways. He advised that the Office of Emergency Medical Services provided the first drowning study in 1979, and recognized drowning as a major public health problem since then. EMS is one of the agencies which helped form AMSEA and has continued to help fund them through a variety of federal grants since that time. All those grants have been temporary. Mr. Johnson stressed that the organization deserves stable funding. Co-Chair Hanley asked if the Governor had included funding for that item in this year's budget. 5 AMY DAUGHERTY, STAFF, REPRESENTATIVE ALAN AUSTERMAN, stated that no funding had been included in the FY98 budget for AMSEA. Co-Chair Therriault asked if it had been acknowledged that only AMSEA be the recipient of the grant for education. Representative Austerman responded that the AMSEA organization, to date, has provided the training as a result of federal laws. He agreed that as the program matures, it could be placed into the private sector. Representative Martin exclaimed that a 5.2% interest rate was a low rate. BETTY MARTIN, STATE COMPTROLLER, STATE TREASURY, DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE, replied that the current general investment funds include over one hundred smaller funds, some of which, through statutory or Attorney General opinions have the right to receive their own interest. The Fishermen's Fund is not one of those funds. The Department of Administration determines which of those funds are eligible for interest. The current agreement is to pay each organization at the rate of 5.2% interest income. The State at this time is reconsidering the practice with the intent to pay the entire interest received to each of the individual funds. (Tape Change HFC 97-46, Side 2). Representative Martin asked if there was a major disaster, could the principle of the fund be used quickly. Ms. Martin explained that there was a limit of $2,500 dollar per person cap to the amount paid out of the fund. Representative Martin questioned the cap. Representative Martin suggested that the amount provided to AMSEA should be a guaranteed amount rather than a moving amount as predetermined by the interest rate. Co-Chair Therriault pointed out that the language was permissive and that the Legislature could appropriate "none" or "all" through the budgeting process. Representative Martin reiterated that a specific number should be guaranteed. Co- Chair Hanley added that the appropriation would be a budgetary issue and that any amount could be appropriated. He pointed out that if the bill passes, it would be accompanied by a fiscal note, however, next year, the request would only be a line item in the budget, open to debate. Representative J. Davies asked where the money for the fiscal note would be indicated in the budget. Co-Chair Therriault distributed the House Finance Committee a new zero fiscal note, suggesting that through the budget process, the amount would be determined. In the past, the 6 Department of Administration placed the request in designated grants component in Department of Community and Regional Affairs budget. Representative J. Davies asked if the money was appropriated, would it appear as designated program receipts. Co-Chair Therriault stated that the Department would be responsible to show a reduction in order to authorize requested funding for the program. Representative G. Davis MOVED to delete language on Page 1, Lines 9 & 10, "to the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association". There being NO OBJECTION, it was adopted. Representative Martin MOVED to change Page 1, Line 8, deleting "50 percent" and inserting "up to $250 thousand dollars". Co-Chair Hanley believed that could create a problem when $250 thousand dollars was not earned in interest income. He reiterated that the issue could be addressed in the budget process. Co-Chair Therriault OBJECTED to Amendment #2. Representative J. Davies voiced support to keep the number "floating", reminding members that there will always be pressure to keep it as small as possible. A roll call vote was taken on the MOTION. IN FAVOR: G. Davis, Martin, Mulder OPPOSED: Foster, Kohring, J. Davies, Therriault, Hanley Representatives Grussendorf, Kelly, and Moses were not present for the vote. The MOTION FAILED (3-5). Representative G. Davis noted for the record that he supported the work of AMSEA and that the reason for his amendment was not intended as a personal threat to that group. Representative Foster MOVED to report CS HB 13 (FIN) out of Committee with individual recommendations and with the accompanying fiscal notes. Co-Chair Hanley disclosed that he had a conflict of interest as he does acquire a commercial fishing license and has utilized the AMSEA fund. Representative J. Davies requested more discussion regarding the fiscal note. He understood that a fiscal note needed to be funded for the first year and would then be dropped into the budget line items the second year. Co-Chair Hanley commented that had been the approach last year. Conference Committee often reduces fiscal notes to 7 squeeze them within a certain dollar amount. He suggested that the fiscal impact of the legislation be discussed in the Department of Community and Regional Affair's Subcommittee priority. He added that the Governor should offer an amendment to cover the requested dollar amount. Co-Chair Therriault said if a statutory change is made to start a new program, the first year, it would be funded through a fiscal note, thereafter, it would be built into the base of the budget. Because HB 13 is permissive, it could be either way. Representative J. Davies foresaw a problem with the subcommittee trying to place money into a budget for a program not yet signed into effect. Co-Chair Therriault advised that to appropriate to the program, would not require that the program be in effect. Representative J. Davies voiced concern that there clearly was a fiscal impact which should be noted in the fiscal note. Co-Chair Hanley responded that all fiscal notes accompany the bill to Conference Committee. CS HB 13 (FIN) was reported out of Committee with a "no recommendation" and with zero fiscal notes by the Department of Labor dated 2/21/97 and the House Finance Committee.