Legislature(2023 - 2024)BARNES 124
01/30/2023 03:15 PM House LABOR & COMMERCE
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HB 13-APPLICABILITY OF HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION 3:16:05 PM CHAIR SUMNER announced that the first order of business would be HB 13, "Applicability of Human Rights Commission." 3:16:15 PM REPRESENTATIVE ANDY JOSEPHSON, Alaska State Legislature, as prime sponsor, presented HB 13. He stated that the state of Alaska has had a Human Rights Commission since 1963. The Human Rights Commission does not have jurisdiction over non-profit organizations. He said that according to Legislative Research Services, it is unclear why this is the case. REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPHSON stated that the Human Rights Commission was created during a time in which there was work being done to eliminate discrimination based on factors such as race and ethnicity. He said that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) acts as a "parent organization" and generally covers larger employers. The EEOC pays a fee to the Human Rights Commission to handle some cases that it normally would. He reiterated that HB 13 would give the Human Rights Commission jurisdiction over non-profit organizations. He said that the Human Rights Commission operates by investigating meritorious claims of discrimination and then trying to conciliate both sides of a case to keep the case from going to court. The agency can take cases to court if a reconciliation agreement is not reached. REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPHSON stated that in 2018, the commissioners that had been appointed by then Governor Bill Walker supported the change that would be made by HB 13. Last fall, commissioners appointed by Governor Mike Dunleavy agreed with the previous commissioners. 3:21:55 PM REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPHSON said he believes the bill is necessary to address a "gap" in jurisdiction. If a person is discriminated against for housing or employment, they are able to take their claims to the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission (AERC), but there are people in other parts of the state that do not have such an opportunity if they work for a non-profit because the Human Rights Commission lacks jurisdiction. He noted that only nine states lack protections for non-profit employees, and approximately 50 cases were not "screened in" by the Human Rights Commission due to a lack of jurisdiction. 3:24:23 PM REPRESENTATIVE SADDLER asked how many cases the Human Rights Commission deals with per year. REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPHSON answered that he was unsure, but Robert Corbisier, the Executive Director at the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights, would be able to answer later. 3:25:24 PM REPRESENTATIVE RUFFRIDGE declared a potential conflict, as his wife serves as a commissioner on the Human Rights Commission. CHAIR SUMNER did not recuse Representative Ruffridge. 3:25:47 PM REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPHSON stated that in the 2021 report from the Alaska Human Rights Commission, there was a peak of 1,733 cases in the highest year, 405 of which were found to have a basis. In 2021, the number dropped to 674, which he believes could be related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 3:27:00 PM REPRESENTATIVE SADDLER asked for clarification on the number of cases for 2021. REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPHSON answered that there were 674 inquiries in 2021, 139 cases that were found to have basis, 119 cases that were taken in, and 106 complaints filed. 3:27:43 PM ALEXANDER SCHROEDER, Staff, Representative Andy Josephson, Alaska State Legislature, provided a PowerPoint presentation titled "HB 13: Applicability of Human Rights Commission" on behalf of Representative Josephson, prime sponsor. He added that the proposed legislation would amend AS 18.80.300 sub- section (5) to amend the definition of employer to include non- profit organizations, which would give the Human Rights Commission jurisdiction over them in discrimination cases. 3:29:19 PM MR. SCHROEDER moved to slide 2 and stated that the EEOC is the federal equivalent to the Alaska State Commission on Human Rights (ASCHR), created by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to deal with employment-related discrimination. He noted that the EEOC covers employers with 15 or more employees, while the Human Rights Commission covers any employer with at least one employee. He continued to slide 3 and said that ASCHR was created in 1963, adding that Alaska is one of only nine states that does not include non-profit organizations under the jurisdiction of its human rights commission. Moving back to slide 2, he said that municipal level human rights commissions such as the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission and the Juneau Human Rights Commission (JHRC) have non-profit organizations included under their jurisdictions. MR. SCHROEDER added that while there are other commissions with the ability to cover non-profit organizations when it comes to employment discrimination, it is still important for ASCHR to gain jurisdiction over those types of cases. The location of the non-profit organization matters, so a resident of one area would be unable to go to the human rights commission of their municipality if the non-profit organization was located in another area. He said that there are areas of Alaska with significant numbers of non-profit employees that would not have a municipal commission to go to if they faced discrimination. 3:34:08 PM MR. SCHROEDER returned to slide 3 and said that ASCHR has had a legislative goal to gain jurisdiction over employment related discrimination cases for four consecutive years. On slide 4, he gave a brief overview of what the bill would do, saying that it would change the definition of "employer" in AS 18.80.300 sub- section (5) to include non-profit organizations, with exceptions for religious, fraternal, and social non-profit organizations. 3:35:51 PM REPRESENTATIVE WRIGHT asked if Representative Josephson could give a specific example of an instance in which this bill would be needed. REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPHSON answered that he was unable to give an example due to cases dealing with non-profit organizations being dispensed with because of a lack of jurisdiction. He added that Mr. Corbisier may be able to give an example. 3:37:12 PM REPRESENTATIVE SADDLER asked Representative Josephson if he had reviewed any of the minutes from the original bill that created ASCHR in order to better understand why the makers of the bill did not include non-profit organizations from the beginning. REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPHSON answered that he was informed by Legislative Research Services that due to the age of the measures, the records are limited and there are no minutes available to provide context to why that may be the case. He said that he was informed by Legislative Research Services that records prior to 1990 are difficult to find, if they can be found at all. In response to a follow-up question, he said that he could try asking his father, who was a legislator at the time, why that was the case. REPRESENTATIVE SADDLER asked if the same definition of employer is used at the municipal and federal level, but not the state level. MR. SCHRODER answered that the definitions vary, as well as the exceptions to those definitions. He deferred to Mr. Corbisier as having a more complete answer to the relation in definitions. 3:40:46 PM REPRESENTATIVE CARRICK asked what the rationale is for excluding religious and fraternal organizations, and what the definition of a fraternal organization would be. REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPHSON answered that HB 13 covers an area of the law that is "evolving"; as an example, he said that he would not want to require churches to ordain female clergy if that went against their religious beliefs. He said that the Boy Scouts of America would be an example of a social or fraternal organization, and although they have since reversed their position, there was a case in which they were not required to have an Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Scout Leader. He said that the bill ultimately reflected the language that the commissioners have requested. 3:45:37 PM ROBERT CORBISIER, Executive Director, Alaska State Commission on Human Rights, stated that ASCHR enforces Article 1, Section 3 of the Alaska State Constitution, which is the section that provides for civil rights. He said ASCHR is the legislature's implementation of that constitutional provision. He said that ASCHR has jurisdiction over employment, public accommodations, the sale and rental of real property, credit and financing, and government practices cases, as well as retaliation cases, which he said often stem from one of the previous types of cases. He noted that the Fairbanks Diversity Council and the Juneau Human Rights Commission are advisory councils without the ability or resources to enforce decisions. He noted AERC is the only other entity in Alaska that has the ability and authorization to implement and enforce decisions. He stated that this gap means that small non-profit organizations of fewer than 15 employees would not face accountability for discrimination. 3:49:02 PM MR. CORBISIER stated that ASCHR receives reimbursement from the EEOC for taking cases that are co-jurisdictional. The commission does not keep track of the cases that it screens out. He said that ASCHR is not a punitive agency, and its goal is to make victims whole and work with the respondents to create an enforceable non-discrimination policy that complies with state and federal laws. In 2022, ASCHR received 814 cases, 184 of which had basis, 164 of which were taken in formally, and 134 of which were signed and investigated. 3:53:32 PM REPRESENTATIVE PRAX declared a potential conflict of interest as his sister in-law serves on the ASCHR board. CHAIR SUMNER did not recuse Representative Prax. REPRESENTATIVE PRAX asked if the EEOC would take cases dealing with a non-profit organization if that organization had 15 or more employees. MR. CORBISIER answered that it would and added that EEOC refers all employment cases in which the employer has 15 or more employees to ASCHR or AERC, if the employer is in Anchorage. If that employer is a non-profit, Mr. Corbisier must inform the EEOC that ASCHR cannot take the case. In response to a follow up question, he answered that he is unsure why the threshold for EEOC is 15 employees but speculated that it is related to the size of cases the federal government wants to address. 3:55:53 PM REPRESENTATIVE SADDLER asked for an explanation on the jurisdictional gap present in employment discrimination cases. MR. CORBISIER answered that AERC's jurisdiction is similar to that of ASCHR's, but AERC has explicit jurisdiction over cases involving LGBTQ discrimination as a protected class. He said AERC also has jurisdiction over non-profit organizations that are located within the Municipality of Anchorage, while EEOC has jurisdiction over employers with 15 or more employees, including non-profit organizations. He added that both organizations would have jurisdiction over cases involving government employers. In response to a follow-up question, he said that ASCHR covers employers with any number of employees, excluding non-profit organizations. REPRESENTATIVE SADDLER inquired about the cost of running ASCHR and its budget. MR. CORBISIER answered that ASCHR has a budget of just over $2 million. He added that this is roughly what it costs to repave a mile of road. 3:58:32 PM REPRESENTATIVE SADDLER inquired about the reimbursement per case to ASCHR from the EEOC and the associated costs with taking on those cases. MR. CORBISIER answered that ASCHR has the capacity to accept more cases without additional cost to the State of Alaska. He added that most of the cases being rejected were rejected because they were "obviously" non-jurisdictional and ASCHR did not want to give "false hope" to the people making those complaints. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the number of cases to decline due to less people working and an increased amount of remote work; the number of cases have increased since things started returning to normal. In response to a follow-up question, he said that the amount of reimbursement could be up to $800 per case, and that 45,000 employees could be affected by the change in jurisdiction. He confirmed that it would not cause an increase in cost to the state's general fund. 4:03:19 PM REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPHSON asked Mr. Corbisier about the difference between the original version of the bill and the commission's adopted resolution language. MR. CORBISIER answered that the language used in the commission's resolution relied more on the religious exemption provided for in regulation. He confirmed that the bill's draft did not change the religious exemption language and removed the word "club." 4:05:38 PM CHAIR SUMNER announced that HB 13 was held over.