Legislature(1995 - 1996)
03/21/1996 03:07 PM HES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 506 - UNIVERSITY FIRE FIGHTING PROGRAM Number 1306 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY announced the next bill on the agenda was HB 506. MICHAEL McGOWAN, Coordinator and Assistant Professor, University of Alaska Fairbanks, testified that Fairbanks has the largest fire science program in the state and is considered by many professionals to be the best in the state, and possibly one of the best in the United States. Currently they have 101 fire science majors. In addition to offering associate degrees in municipal fire, the university is the only campus offering associate degrees in wildland fire and hazardous materials. They also offer courses in emergency trauma training, emergency medical technician, and fire fighter I. The university has a pool of 30 instructors that provide a high level of technical expertise to the program. The university currently offers about 45 courses per year in fire emergency medical services. During the last five years, 97 students have graduated with degrees; of those about 80 percent of them are employed in emergency services or related fields. He has been told by Representative Navarre's office and Mayor Williams of Kenai that the primary purpose of HB 506 is to allow the facility in Kenai to retain all the revenues they generate instead of turning it over to the general fund of the University of Alaska. If that is true, he asked why the fire science program in Fairbanks and Anchorage isn't being included in this bill? He commented that no one seems to understand the true purpose of the bill, and there is concern around the state that this will take away from existing programs. From his point of view, this appears to be an unnecessary duplication of something already being done quite well. He asked committee members not to pass this bill out of committee. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY asked Mr. McGowan if he was saying that program receipts from tuition will cover the cost of training? MR. McGOWAN said that was the information received from Representative Navarre's office and Mayor Williams of Kenai. Apparently the intent is to dedicate the revenues it generates back to the facility rather than to the general fund of the University of Alaska. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY asked if there were any questions for Mr. McGowan. She asked the next witness to begin his testimony. Number 1469 THOMAS MONK, Member, Interior Fire Chiefs Association, testified in opposition to HB 506 because of the inaccurate language, the lack of clarity and the failure to consider other fire programs within the state and university system. The association also opposed the legislation due to their inability to get specific answers to questions from the university system regarding the policies and details related to HB 506. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY asked Mr. Monk who he had contacted at the university? MR. MONK responded he had contacted several agencies; the President's office, the Provost, Vice President of Academic Affairs, University Relations, etc. He added that he didn't have specific names, but the people he had talked with were caught completely off guard as they had no knowledge of HB 506. Number 1538 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY asked for an overview of the structure of the fire training and safety program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. MR. McGOWAN said he could only speak to the Fairbanks campus. The fire science program in Fairbanks is under the Tanana Valley Campus, which is under the College of Rural Alaska. It was his understanding that the Kenai program is just a campus of the University of Alaska Anchorage. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY asked if the fire science was a department or a school under the Tanana Community College. MR. McGOWAN responded it is a program under the Tanana Valley Campus, which is under the College of Rural Alaska. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY asked if there was a school between the program and the Tanana Valley Campus? MR. McGOWAN said it's a direct line. He added they used to be a school of career and continuing education and then merged into the College of Rural Alaska. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY noted that Representative Navarre was in attendance. Number 1633 DAVID BURNETT, Chief, Kenai Fire Department, testified in support of HB 506. He supported the funds coming back to the Mining and Petroleum Training Service (MAPTS) in order to continue the development of this project. He believes it is a viable program and not in conflict with the university's fire science program. Number 1668 REPRESENTATIVE MIKE NAVARRE, Sponsor, said the goal of HB 506 is not to compete with any other fire training facilities around the state. There is a need for the facilities and there will continue to be a need for them. The impetus of bill was his frustration with the university in that this is a program that was an outdoor facility, it had to be moved once because it was generating too much smoke, another outdoor facility was built. Then there were environmental problems and people began to build homes around the facility, so it was going to be moved again in 1988. Another outdoor facility was going to be constructed, but with the changes to the Clean Air Act, he suggested that an indoor state of the art facility be constructed. It is a state of the art facility that is used for all sorts of fire training, but one of the primary uses is for oil fire service training. The oil industry utilizes the facility and are trying, in a cooperative effort, to be able to keep the funds and accumulate enough funds to buy the props necessary, which the university doesn't allow them to do, so they can do the training. The companies are currently buying the props outside in places like Texas, Pennsylvania and Reno, so rather than the dollars being spent out of state, they would be spent instate. He reiterated the legislation is not meant to compete with anybody; it came as a result of his frustration with the university. He is also working with the oil industry to see about utilization of the tax credits that are currently on the statutes as a means of doing a matching type fund, so they would have some input as to what type of props are purchased, so specific growing needs within the oil industry could be met. The Mining and Petroleum Training Service has also been working in development of the training and trying to get commitments for the training for the American companies in the Russian markets. He apologized to the people in Fairbanks who view this as a threat; it is not intended to be that. The thrust is to keep the funds where they are generated because this is a self- funded facility that can continue to grow and meet needs in the state that are currently not being met. Number 1824 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY questioned what exactly gives the legislature the right to dedicate funds. REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE responded they're not dedicated. They are separately accounted for and then the legislature has discretion in the appropriation process as to the disposition of those funds. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY said, "Of program receipts." REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE said they are like program receipts but the legislature gets to control that through the budget process. He hoped the funds would be allowed to be used at the facility in Kenai, but he couldn't absolutely guarantee that. Number 1858 REPRESENTATIVE BRICE asked if the sponsor might consider deleting "Kenai Peninsula" on page 1, line 7, which would imply a statewide institute so the people in Fairbanks could participate. REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE said he would be happy to come up with one coordinated plan for fire training in the state that would allow for designation of certain types of training being done in certain parts of the state. His frustration with the university is there seems to be a propensity for whenever someone begins something successful as a component of the university system, one of the larger campuses proclaims there's a need and they can generate additional revenues if they set up their own facility. That has happened with the petroleum technology training, which was started in Kenai. He believes there are a lot of programs at the university that should be combined into one comprehensive plan statewide. He commented this is his attempt at getting this one facility in Kenai, which has been generating funds in excess of the amount needed to operate the facility, and that money has been stripped away from them and used in other areas. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY asked if there was anyone else who wished to testify on HB 506. MR. MONK said that Mr. Tim Biggane, President of the Alaska Fire Chief's Association had been standing by in Fairbanks to testify, but the time allotment didn't afford him the opportunity. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY apologized to those who didn't get to testify and announced HB 506 would be heard again in committee.