Legislature(1997 - 1998)
02/20/1997 08:21 AM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 13 - MARINE SAFETY TRAINING & EDUCATION The next order of business to come before the House State Affairs Standing Committee was HB 13, "An Act relating to marine safety training and education programs." TAPE 97-17, SIDE B Number 001 CHAIR JAMES announced for the record that Representative Kim Elton was attending a sub-committee meeting today. CHAIR JAMES called on Representative Alan Austerman, sponsor of HB 13, to present the bill. Number 010 REPRESENTATIVE ALAN AUSTERMAN, Alaska State Legislature, explained HB 13 was a remake of a bill that he introduced two years ago. It was passed out of the House of Representatives, then died in the Senate. REPRESENTATIVE AUSTERMAN stated in 1988 the United States Coast Guard took a strong look at what was going on as far as safety was concerned in the marine industry. Consequently, the Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Act of 1988 was passed. The Act took effect in 1991 and required the minimum in safety training and equipment for commercial fishing vessels. The Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA) also helped Alaskans by providing marine safety instructor training some of whom teach drill instructor courses. Other marine safety instructors train the Alaska boating and fishing public, including many children and adults in marine safety. Of the 7,300 people AMSEA trained in 1995, 2,000 were from the commercial fishing industry and 3,700 were children. According to a study conducted in 1995 by the Native Health Service, AMSEA training significantly reduced fatalities among commercial fisherman. This coincided with a 50 percent drop in fishing fatalities in Alaska in the last four years. Moreover, AMSEA was a nonprofit, community-based information and training network supported by many volunteers. Its annual budget had ranged from $100,000 to $250,000 in the past five years. It had received 100 percent of its funding from the federal government, of which, the funding fell to $50,000 last year. And, this year it would fall to $0. The number of people training also fell to an all time low. The organization deserved the intervention of the legislature to ensure long-term stability. Moreover, the Fishermen's Fund was created before statehood and 100 percent of it was funded by commercial fishing license fees. Sixty percent of all license fees were dedicated to the fund. Since commercial fishermen were often the beneficiaries of the required marine safety training, it was appropriate to allow part of the interest of the fund to be used to fund some of AMSEA's marine safety programs. It was estimated that the Fishermen's Fund generated approximately $300,000 in interest a year. The bill requested up to approximately one-half of the interest earnings a year. The current interest earnings, he explained, of the Fishermen's Fund went into the general fund. Number 099 REPRESENTATIVE AUSTERMAN also stated that he had lived on or around water most of his life. Therefore, "The need to have education and training, particularly starting with our children, is to me very, very important." His office would be willing to provide a package of information from last year that included testimony from all over Alaska illustrating the need and benefits of AMSEA. He cited the decline in the death rate in the Interior of Alaska on the rivers was directly related to the Act. He reiterated the all time death rates had also decreased over the last four years. National publications also illustrated the direct benefit of survival as a result of the training received from the program. The state of Alaska did not have a water boat safety program. The AMSEA program was the nearest the state had, and probably the nearest it would get to one with the funding reductions. He concluded that the bill was passed out of the House of Representatives last year with a vote of 34 to 4. Number 145 CHAIR JAMES asked Representative Austerman what types of problems did he see if the bill did not pass in regards to the issue of dedicating funds? Was the legislature authorized without the bill to give 50 percent of the interest income to a safety training program or an amount from the general fund that was comparable? Number 158 REPRESENTATIVE AUSTERMAN replied that the Fishermen's Fund was a pre-statehood dedicated fund. The interest earnings that went into the general fund were not part of the dedication. If the stream of interest earnings were interrupted, it would not touch to dedication itself. If the bill proposed money from the fund itself, however, then the dedication would be destroyed. Number 170 CHAIR JAMES said Representative Austerman misunderstood her question. The effect of HB 13 was to draw attention to the legislature and the relationship between the interest of the fund and the need for training. CHAIR JAMES further stated that the bill did not compel the legislature to do this, the wording only said "may." But, if the bill did not pass the legislature would probably never fund it. Therefore, the effect of this piece of legislation was not binding, it was only suggestive. Number 183 REPRESENTATIVE AUSTERMAN replied, "That is correct." A source of funding had been identified that was generated by the fishermen themselves. Number 190 CHAIR JAMES thanked Representative Austerman. She agreed that was the message that the legislature wanted to send. It could be argued that this was not necessary; the legislature could already do this. The act was the message. Number 194 REPRESENTATIVE FRED DYSON stated he had been trained under the program himself. He was certified to conduct vessel safety equipment inspections and man-over-board drills. He believed he could also charge a fee for his services and profit from the results of the program. He never had, however. CHAIR JAMES stated that the committee members appreciated his disclosure. REPRESENTATIVE DYSON stated that much of this legislation came from the loss of a seiner in Marmot Bay, and the efforts of the influential parents of one of the victims. He agreed with Representative Austerman that the rate of survival had decreased precipitously in Alaskan waters. This Act and the training had a profound affect on marine disasters in Alaska. "I will certainly encourage us to pass this bill and commend the author for his relentless pursuit of keeping this training available." Number 231 REPRESENTATIVE HODGINS asked Representative Austerman if the bill placed an economic burden on Alaskans living remotely? How was the training conducted and certified? Number 235 REPRESENTATIVE AUSTERMAN replied the majority of the people involved were volunteers. A little bit of money was used for travel and equipment. The program reached out to 7,300 people with only a budget of $150,000. Number 250 RON DEARBORN, Director, Alaska Sea Grant College Program, University of Alaska Fairbanks, was the first person to testify via teleconference in Fairbanks. He worked with faculty throughout the university of Alaska system on research, education and marine extension efforts. The program was one of the original partners of the AMSEA. The relationship continued, proudly. The AMSEA had received national awards. The one critical partner missing was the Alaska State Legislature. He urged the committee members to support HB 13. Number 281 JERRY DZUGAN was the next person to testify via teleconference in Sitka. He cited that drowning was the number 2 cause of accidental death in Alaska. And, Alaska had the highest drowning rate in the nation. The rates were starting to fall, however. He asked the committee members to expedite the passage of the bill so that Alaskans of all ages could continue to take advantage of this program and reduce the needless loss of life due to drowning. Number 298 LARRY BUSSONE, Health Program Manager II, Division of Public Health, Department of Social Services, was the first person to testify in Juneau. He announced the department's support of the bill. Number 313 REPRESENTATIVE HODGINS moved that HB 13 move from the committee with the attached fiscal note(s) and individual recommendations. There was no objection, HB 13 was so moved from the House State Affairs Standing Committee.