Legislature(2003 - 2004)
03/22/2004 01:10 PM House JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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 committee. 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 not. 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 requirement. 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 OVR. 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.