Legislature(2003 - 2004)

03/22/2004 01:10 PM House JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 534 - EXTEND OFFICE OF VICTIMS RIGHTS                                                                                      
Number 0052                                                                                                                     
CHAIR McGUIRE  announced that the  first order of  business would                                                               
be HOUSE BILL NO. 534, "An  Act extending the termination date of                                                               
the office of victims' rights."                                                                                                 
Number 0093                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  SAMUELS,  as  chair  of the  Joint  Committee  on                                                               
Legislative Budget and  Audit, sponsor of HB  534, explained that                                                               
this legislation  is a simple  sunset extension of the  Office of                                                               
Victims' Rights  (OVR).  Representative Samuels  pointed out that                                                               
this is being  [addressed] a bit early because  sometimes the OVR                                                               
is  taking cases  that can  last several  years.   Therefore, the                                                               
desire is to  ensure that the OVR can, in  good conscience, still                                                               
take  the case  without the  sunset [becoming  a problem].   This                                                               
legislation was based on the  statute pertaining to the Office of                                                               
the  Ombudsman.   Although the  Office of  the Ombudsman  doesn't                                                               
have a  sunset date, Representative  Samuels opined that  the OVR                                                               
is new  enough that he  wanted to [maintain some  oversight] with                                                               
regard to  the office's effectiveness  and work.  He  pointed out                                                               
that the  committee packet  should contain  the annual  report of                                                               
the OVR.                                                                                                                        
Number 0167                                                                                                                     
STEPHEN BRANCHFLOWER, Director, Office  of Victims' Rights (OVR),                                                               
Alaska  State  Legislature, offered  his  belief  that since  the                                                               
creation  of the  OVR, it  has implemented  [its purpose]  to the                                                               
substantial benefit of crime victims  in Alaska.  He informed the                                                               
committee  that  the  OVR  has   been  staffed  with  experienced                                                               
attorneys and  support staff.  Furthermore,  the things necessary                                                               
to create a viable agency,  such as negotiating a long-term lease                                                               
and establishing  office and case  management systems,  have been                                                               
done.    As  of  today,  376  victims  have  been  served.    Mr.                                                               
Branchflower turned  to the OVR's annual  report, and highlighted                                                               
that  the  OVR has  performed  extensive  community training  and                                                               
outreach.   He  also  highlighted  that the  OVR  has created  an                                                               
informational brochure of which  approximately 15,000 copies have                                                               
been distributed.   Mr. Branchflower  pointed out that if  HB 348                                                               
becomes  law,   it  includes  money  to   print  another  100,000                                                               
informational brochures for distribution.                                                                                       
MR. BRANCHFLOWER  noted that in cooperation  with the Legislative                                                               
Information  Office,  a  very user-friendly  web  site  has  been                                                               
created.  This  web site includes an  extensive explanation about                                                               
the  OVR  and victims'  rights,  a  glossary of  frequently  used                                                               
terms,  an outline  of a  typical criminal  case, and  an on-line                                                               
complaint  form.    The aforementioned  complaint  form  is  very                                                               
beneficial, especially to victims in  the Bush.  Furthermore, the                                                               
OVR has drafted  regulations and those are on the  verge of being                                                               
sent to the Office of the Governor for approval.                                                                                
MR. BRANCHFLOWER concluded by requesting  that the sunset date be                                                               
extended because he  believes the OVR has  demonstrated its value                                                               
to  victims  in  Alaska.    Moreover, the  OVR  has  developed  a                                                               
cooperative  relationship  with  a  number  of  victims'  support                                                               
organizations, including police and  prosecutors.  He, too, noted                                                               
that  there are  some cases  that will  likely extend  beyond the                                                               
July  2006 [sunset  date],  adding  that one  of  the cases  will                                                               
almost certainly go to the Alaska  Supreme Court.  Page 16 of the                                                               
annual   report  discusses   the   aforementioned   case.     Mr.                                                               
Branchflower  urged   the  committee   to  report  HB   534  from                                                               
Number 0469                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG   inquired  as   to  why   a  four-year                                                               
extension was chosen.                                                                                                           
REPRESENTATIVE  SAMUELS answered,  "Short  enough  where you  can                                                               
still have a little  bit of a leash on it,  and long enough where                                                               
you're not doing this again in  another two years."  He indicated                                                               
that [the length of a sunset] is a rather arbitrary number.                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE   GRUENBERG   relayed   that   many   boards   and                                                               
commissions  seem  to  [sunset]  about  every  four  years.    He                                                               
recalled  that  the  sunset concept  became  popular  during  the                                                               
1970s.  However, many of  these boards and commissions are fairly                                                               
well established.  Representative Gruenberg  opined that a lot of                                                               
legislative   time  is   spent  reviewing   various  boards   and                                                               
commissions.  Although he said he  didn't have a problem with the                                                               
aforementioned, he  suggested that this  may be a point  at which                                                               
the  legislature may  need to  determine how  to spend  its time.                                                               
Therefore, he  suggested a  bit longer length  for the  sunset of                                                               
these organizations.                                                                                                            
REPRESENTATIVE  SAMUELS characterized  Representative Gruenberg's                                                               
comments  as a  "good point."    He informed  the committee  that                                                               
currently, the auditor  is trying to stagger the  [sunset of] all                                                               
boards  and commissions,  but many  are  coming due  at once  and                                                               
overwhelming the audit staff.   The aforementioned results in the                                                               
legislative audits requested by  members of the legislature being                                                               
pushed  to the  bottom.   Representative  Samuels clarified  that                                                               
there is  no audit due for  the OVR, and therefore  won't take up                                                               
the auditor's  time.  He noted  that one option is  to repeal the                                                               
sunset;  however, he  said  he believes  that the  OVR  is a  new                                                               
office that should be on a "shorter leash."                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG  inquired  as  to  the  possibility  of                                                               
having an audit for the OVR, just like every other board.                                                                       
REPRESENTATIVE  SAMUELS noted  that an  [audit] request  could be                                                               
made.  However, he expressed the  need to wait a couple years and                                                               
let the OVR be in existence and "get its feet wet."                                                                             
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  asked if other legislative  boards have                                                               
a statutory requirement for a legislative audit.                                                                                
Number 0710                                                                                                                     
KARLA   SCHOFIELD,  Deputy   Director,  Accounting,   Legislative                                                               
Administrative  Services,  Legislative  Affairs  Agency,  relayed                                                               
that the  OVR is  part of  the legislative  branch, which  has an                                                               
annual financial audit.  Usually,  the Legislative Audit Division                                                               
doesn't audit [entities] in the legislative branch.                                                                             
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  pointed out  that the other  audits are                                                               
more programmatic, although they  do deal with financial aspects.                                                               
He  said that  he  finds  the audits  for  the  other boards  and                                                               
commissions  extremely  helpful.   Therefore,  he  expressed  the                                                               
desire to  have an audit  for the OVR.   He  asked if there  is a                                                               
reason not to do so.                                                                                                            
REPRESENTATIVE SAMUELS reiterated his desire to wait a year.                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG specified that  he would [want] an audit                                                               
to  occur in  2010  when  the OVR  sunsets.    He indicated  that                                                               
[boards and commissions] usually have an audit when they expire.                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  SAMUELS  pointed  out  that  the  Office  of  the                                                               
Ombudsman doesn't  have "one at all."   He noted that  the choice                                                               
to him  was in regard  to putting a [sunset]  date on the  OVR or                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  opined that it's [appropriate]  to have                                                               
a sunset.                                                                                                                       
REPRESENTATIVE  OGG raised  a point  of order,  relating that  he                                                               
would be happy to hear an amendment [if that is desired].                                                                       
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  clarified that this is  a discussion to                                                               
determine whether  he wanted to  offer an amendment,  and whether                                                               
it requires a statutory amendment.                                                                                              
REPRESENTATIVE  SAMUELS reiterated  that if  an audit  is desired                                                               
later,  it  can  be  requested through  the  Joint  Committee  on                                                               
Legislative Budget and Audit.                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  asked if the  audits for all  the other                                                               
boards and commissions occur upon  request of the Joint Committee                                                               
on  Legislative Budget  and Audit  or is  it due  to a  statutory                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE   SAMUELS   answered   that   the   audits   occur                                                               
automatically upon  the sunset date  of the  entity.  He  said he                                                               
assumes that  the audit  occurs due  to a  statutory requirement.                                                               
If, upon sunset,  a [board or commission] doesn't  have the audit                                                               
for renewal, the board [or commission] goes away.                                                                               
Number 0905                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG  moved  that   the  committee  adopt  a                                                               
conceptual  amendment such  that the  same statutory  requirement                                                               
for [the  other boards  and commissions]  be implemented  for the                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE  SAMUELS  objected.    He explained  that  if  the                                                               
financial audit  is already  occurring, he  didn't want  to place                                                               
the  burden  [on  the  Legislative  Audit  Division]  to  perform                                                               
something  that's already  being  done.   He  reiterated that  if                                                               
someone wants  an audit,  that can be  requested and  the auditor                                                               
and the Legislative  Affairs Agency can be  contacted with regard                                                               
to what  is being sought in  the audit.  He  highlighted that the                                                               
financial audit is already being done, as is the report.                                                                        
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  explained that he wanted  the same type                                                               
of programmatic audit that is in  place for all the other [boards                                                               
or commissions].                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE SAMUELS  pointed out  that the other  boards don't                                                               
provide an  annual report.   He reiterated  that the OVR  is more                                                               
closely aligned with the Office of the Ombudsman.                                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  commented that  he views  a self-report                                                               
as  a bit  different  than an  audit, which  is  performed by  an                                                               
independent agency.  Representative  Gruenberg said he is willing                                                               
to withdraw  the amendment, although  he believes  an independent                                                               
audit is helpful.                                                                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE  SAMUELS stated  that if  Representative Gruenberg                                                               
requests an audit, "we'll push it forward."                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG withdrew the conceptual amendment.                                                                     
Number 1027                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE SAMUELS  moved to report  HB 534 out  of committee                                                               
with individual recommendations and  the accompanying zero fiscal                                                               
note.  There being no objection, it was so ordered.                                                                             

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