Legislature(2011 - 2012)BARNES 124
02/22/2012 03:15 PM LABOR & COMMERCE
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HB 301-SUNSET OF BOATING REGULATION 3:21:16 PM CHAIR OLSON announced that the first order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 301, "An Act amending the termination date of certain statutes relating to the use, operation, and regulation of boats, a uniform state waterway marking system, and civil liability for boat owners; providing for an effective date by amending the effective date of secs. 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 14, 16, 18, 20, 23, 26, and 27, ch. 28, SLA 2000, as amended; and providing for an effective date." 3:21:56 PM REPRESENTATIVE ALAN AUSTERMAN, Alaska State Legislature, stated that he served in the legislature when the initial boating safety bill sponsored by former Representative Bill Hudson passed the legislature. He offered his belief that this program has saved lives. 3:22:58 PM ASTRID LIEVANO, Staff, Representative Alan Austerman, stated that the purpose of HB 301 is to repeal the sunset dates of the Statewide Borating Safety and Education Program, which will terminate on July 1, 2013. She explained that funding is provided by the U.S. Coast Guard. In 2000, the state became eligible for funding with passage of the Alaska Boating Safety Act. When the program was established the 21st Legislature cautiously added two sunset dates. The first repealed the act in the event that the state did not receive the anticipated federal funds; and the second sunsetted the program by date. Since then, the legislature has voted three times to extend the program thereby recognizing its merits. The program has been in effect for 12 years, during which time recreational boaters have become better educated and safer and recreational fatalities are in a downward trend. MS. LIEVANO explained that fatalities have dropped by 22.1 percent and at least 22 Alaskan children have survived water emergency thanks, in part, to a Kids Don't Float program, which dispenses life jacket loaners. The U.S. Coast Guard life jacket wear rate studies also show increases in life jacket use. The Alaska Boating Safety Program is funded entirely by fees on users, with a portion of funding derived from the Sportfish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, and the balance is derived from State of Alaska boat registration receipts. 3:25:00 PM MS. LIEVANO reported the federal funding grant for FY 2012 was $913,385 and the state funding through the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has consistently been $200,000. She offered her belief that Alaska's investment for boating safety is small when compared to the lives saved in Alaska. 3:25:32 PM REPRESENTATIVE MIA COSTELLO, Alaska State Legislature, asked whether this is the program that provides life jackets at Sand Lake. MS. LIEVANO answered yes. CHAIR OLSON reported life jackets are also used on the Kenai River and he has heard they have a positive impact. 3:26:26 PM REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON said he supports this bill 100 percent and noted the program is very worthwhile. 3:26:50 PM REPRESENTATIVE CHENAULT indicated the costs in 2005 were $478,000, but in 2006 the costs increased to $787,000, and now the program costs are $1,400,000. He questioned the increase in program costs. MS. LIEVANO asked for clarification on whether he was referring to the overall costs or why the federal funds have increased. REPRESENTATIVE CHENAULT related that it appears the costs have stayed constant through the DMV, but the federal funding has nearly doubled since 2005. MS. LIEVANO agreed the U.S. Coast Guard's funding for boating safety funding has increased. 3:28:18 PM REPRESENTATIVE SADDLER said he hoped Jeff Johnson would be staying on as the DNR officer for the program. He stated he has had an opportunity to work with him and Mr. Johnson brings a wealth of institutional knowledge and energy to the program. He commented that he hopes the boating safety program will continue and Mr. Johnson also continues as staff for this program. He asked for clarification on any new functions or areas would be performed with the expansion of the program. REPRESENTATIVE AUSTERMAN acknowledged that the program has expanded and he was unsure what is planned; however the Department of Natural Resources could respond. 3:30:08 PM JEFF JOHNSON, Boating Law Administrator, Office of Boating Safety, Division of Parks & Outdoor Recreation, Department of Natural Resources (DNR), in response to a question, stated that this program's emphasis is on changing behavior and providing education in the schools. REPRESENTATIVE SADDLER asked whether this agency cooperates with other agencies. MR. JOHNSON answered that many other programs were in effect at the time their program was developed, including U.S. Coast Guard, and the Kids Don't Float Program. The Office of Boating Safety's focus has been on changing behavior, in particular, adult male behavior. Their other focus has been to educate future boaters through the school programs. He pointed out one challenge for injury prevention is to reach rural Alaskans. He said that the division saw opportunities to help and the goal is to maximize funds through cooperation and take the term "partnership" seriously. REPRESENTATIVE SADDLER asked if this program is unique to Alaska. MR. JOHNSON answered no, that 56 states and territories have state boating programs in effect. In 1987, Alaska was the only state without a program, even though its fatality rate has been more than 20 times the national average. He pointed out one benefit of coming into the scene late that Alaska has been able to benefit from other programs. He said is proud of the effectiveness of the small number of programs in Alaska and that Alaska is making progress. 3:33:49 PM REPRESENTATIVE CHENAULT wondered whether the program will continue to receive federal funding or if the funding will be reduced. MR. JOHNSON answered that the funding for the program comes from the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, which is part of the Highway Trust Fund, but it is a user-pay user-benefit system. Thus much of the revenue is derived from fuel taxes attributable to recreational power boats and excise taxes on sport fishing equipment. It was designed as a user-pay user- benefit system, which is widely supported by boating organizations around the country. He acknowledged that he could not predict what the Congress will do in terms of any budget cuts; however, he did offer his belief that this program has a lot of support. He said it is a direct benefit to users paying into it and is perceived that way nationally. Additionally, the program is a very small program as compared to many other programs. He related his understanding that the program has a proven track record. He offered his belief the way to survive budget cuts is to prove the job being done is a good job. He also said he thinks staff is doing a good job. 3:35:33 PM BEN ELLIS, Director, Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, Department of Natural Resources (DNR), agreed that funding is a concern; however, he anticipates the federal transportation funding bill will go through and the program will be safe for the present time. 3:36:20 PM REPRESENTATIVE CHENAULT agreed the program is a good program. He pointed out that although the military also does a good job, it has undergone funding issues. Additionally, even the educational system is subject to budget cuts. He offered his support the Boating Safety Program, but he cautioned that the federal government is making cuts. 3:37:47 PM CHRIS OSOWSKI, Member, Alaska Boating Safety Advisory Council, stated that the council meets twice a year with DNR to evaluate the success of the programs. He said he is familiar with Alaska's waterways since he has lived in Alaska since 1970 and his family has a homestead that can only be accessed by the river system. He viewed this program as one designed to help develop safe habits to ensure people survive. He has participated as a volunteer and has observed how this program works. He characterized this program as a good program and it would be worthwhile to focus on meeting the program's goals and not have to worry about funding. 3:39:23 PM CHAIR OLSON asked whether any funding is being used to drown- proof infants. He recalled that very young infants can be taught to develop a reflex action, such that they can roll over in the water and keep their head out so they can breathe. He related that he has had personal experience with a family member who fell off a sailboat and survived due to the specific drown- proof training. MR. OSOWSKI related his understanding that discussions have focused on floatation devices, but have not proceeded with this type of training. The program's training has been limited to instilling the value of wearing floatation devices and dangers of cold water. He offered to bring this idea back to the group. REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON welcomed his constituent. He characterized him as a "good guy." 3:41:28 PM REPRESENTATIVE SADDLER raised the issue of funding the program in the event federal funding was diminished. He asked if the Alaska's boating registration fees are the same or higher than in other states. MR. OSOWSKI offered his belief that they were in line with other state's fees. REPRESENTATIVE SADDLER questioned the amount of fees raised from boat registration fees. MR. JOHNSON answered $570,000 is derived from boat registration receipts. He said the fee for boat registrations is one developed by the U.S. Coast Guard. He explained that the Congressional budget office requires federal agencies must charge no more than the cost of the boat registration. The figure represents the cost to register boats in 1998 and so the same fee is still in place. He was unsure, but thought that Alaska's boating registration fees are likely among the lowest in the nation. MR. ELLIS stated that this bill relates to the sunset of the state requirement; however, he agreed that the state must consider developing a safety net in the event that the federal funding is cut so this important program can continue. He mentioned that swimming doesn't always help people survive due to the cold water in Alaska. 3:44:13 PM REPRESENTATIVE SADDLER recalled the figure of $578,000 and asked whether this is what Alaska receives or generates in fees. MR. JOHNSON answered that the DMV collects $578,000 annually from boating registration fees. He related that the program receives a portion of the fees collected and the DMV uses a portion to cover its administrative costs. CHAIR OLSON, after first determining no one else wished to testify, closed public testimony on HB 301. 3:45:08 PM REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON moved to report HB 301 out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal note. There being no objection, HB 301 was reported from the House Labor and Commerce Standing Committee. 3:45:44 PM The committee took an at-ease from 3:45 p.m. to 3:48 p.m.