Legislature(2005 - 2006)CAPITOL 106
04/21/2005 08:00 AM STATE AFFAIRS
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 86-OMBUDSMAN HOTLINE CHAIR SEATON announced that the next order of business was HOUSE BILL NO. 86, "An Act establishing in the office of the ombudsman a state executive branch employee fraud, waste, and abuse report hotline program." 8:53:00 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER moved to adopt the committee substitute (CS) for HB 86, Version 24-LS0237\Y, Craver, 4/20/05. There being no objection, Version Y was before the committee. 8:53:28 AM MIKE PAWLOWSKI, Staff to Representative Kevin Meyer, Alaska State Legislature, on behalf of Representative Meyer, sponsor, reviewed the changes made to HB 86 in Version Y. He said those changes were in response to discussions with the Office of the Ombudsman. MR. PAWLOWSKI noted that the first change shows in Section 2, on page 2, lines [9-11]. The language has been "softened to a degree" to allow the ombudsman to attempt to identify the person calling the hotline, while protecting the anonymity "of the agency employee reporting to the hotline." The ombudsman, he said, felt strongly that "there needed to be at least some leeway to get back to the person." In the same section, on page 2, lines 12-15, new language was added, which read as follows: (d) The ombudsman shall report to the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee every six months regarding the number of calls, and the types of fraud, waste, and abuse reported through the hotline program. The ombudsman may not verify the reports or investigate the information reported. 8:55:52 AM REPRESENTATIVE ELKINS asked, "At that time did they make recommendations on their findings ...?" 8:56:04 AM MR. PAWLOWSKI answered, "At this point, the discussion that we've had is that they do not make recommendations on their [findings]." He directed attention to page 1, lines 5-6, which give the ombudsman the leeway to adopt, by regulation, procedures for receiving and processing. That gives the Office of the Ombudsman the ability to decide how to process a frivolous complaint or "something that is obviously not worthwhile to investigate." 8:57:02 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG asked what the reason is to require the extra step of the report. 8:57:43 AM MR. PAWLOWSKI replied, "We view it as a very valuable tool for the legislature to know what the allegations that are made through this employee hotline are." In response to a follow-up question from Representative Gruenberg, Mr. Pawlowski indicated that the sponsor is open to suggestions as to how often the report should be required. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG stated his concern that people would be spending their limited staff time doing the reports "rather than doing the cases." MR. PAWLOWSKI stated his belief that the fiscal note shows that a person would be added to "handle the hotline and handle this burden." In response to a suggestion to do the reports annually, he said, "I think we'd be very amenable to that." 8:58:32 AM MR. PAWLOWSKI directed attention to the third change to the bill: the new language of Section 3, on page 3, lines 1-5, which read as follows: *Sec.3. AS 39.25 is amended by adding a new section to read: Sec. 39.25.920. Department of administration to inform employees of hotline. The commissioner of administration shall inform executive branch employees of the public employee fraud, waste, and abuse hotline program established under AS 24.55.222. 8:58:59 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG asked for the reason for using "executive branch", and he suggested using "public employees" instead. 8:59:41 AM MR. PAWLOWSKI said, "I believe that's a very good catch." He moved on to the fourth change, which he said is simply one of omission. He said: Before we set up an investigatory feature to the hotline, where the ombudsman's office goes and investigates these instances of fraud, waste, and abuse, we'd like to see whether the program is received or not. And so, what we've done is we've removed the investigation portion. The reason behind that being ... that there still is the ability to investigate through [the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee's (BUD's)] ability to direct an audit if fraud, waste, or abuse is glaring enough that ... the committee can decide to pursue that. At the same time, without having the knowledge that this hotline will be effective or used, we believe it's premature to start off establishing an entire investigatory branch. 9:00:45 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG stated, "This is an issue that ... will come up in the bill also, dealing with the Human Rights Commission." He said, "I appreciate what you're doing here - good change." 9:01:38 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER noted that the purpose of the bill is to "establish procedures for receiving and processing", including, on page 1, line 7, "conducting investigations". She said she is confused between that and the language on page 2, beginning on line 14, which read: "The ombudsman may not verify the reports or investigate the information reported." She asked for clarification. 9:02:02 AM MR. PAWLOWSKI explained, "The new addition of the hotline is a distinction between the ombudsman's existing language [in statute]. He reiterated that the reason for the new language on page 2, beginning on line 14, is "to see if it works before we build up the investigatory part." He concluded, "So, we're clarifying that they can receive and process, but we do not want you to investigate here." 9:02:42 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG said he liked the elimination of the investigation section, because it eliminated the micro management of the agency. He added, "But I think they should be able to investigate; I just don't want it set out how they have to do it." He said he would like to eliminate the aforementioned sentence on page 2, beginning on line 14. He said, "The agency can certainly do it if it wants to, but that's up to the agency." 9:03:34 AM REPRESENTATIVE LYNN concurred. He said he doesn't think it's necessary to "complicate the lives of people trying to do a good job." 9:04:10 AM CHAIR SEATON, after ascertaining that there was not one else to testify, closed public testimony. 9:04:45 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG moved Amendment 1, as follows: Page 2, lines [14-15]: Delete "The ombudsman may not verify the reports or investigate the information reported." 9:05:35 AM MR. PAWLOWSKI, in response to a question from Chair Seaton, said Amendment 1 would be acceptable to the sponsor. 9:05:44 AM CHAIR SEATON indicated that he doesn't think the intent of the language was to be restrictive, but that could be the result. He asked if there was any objection to Amendment 1. There being none, Amendment 1 was adopted. 9:06:19 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG moved Conceptual Amendment 2, as follows: Page 3, line 3: Delete "executive branch" Insert "public" 9:07:17 AM MR. PAWLOWSKI suggested the language be made to conform to the other language in the bill. 9:07:51 AM CHAIR SEATON stated his preference to have a conceptual amendment in order to show "the full intent of what we're doing." 9:08:09 AM MR. PAWLOWSKI said that's fine. 9:08:14 AM CHAIR SEATON reiterated [Conceptual] Amendment 2. 9:09:00 AM CHAIR SEATON asked if there was any objection to [Conceptual] Amendment 2. They're being none, [Conceptual] Amendment 2 was adopted. 9:09:16 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG moved Amendment 3, as follows: Page 2, line 13: Delete "every six months" Insert "annually" 9:10:44 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER objected for discussion purposes. 9:10:52 AM REPRESENTATIVE ELKINS said he thinks the whole bill was strengthened when the committee [adopted Amendment 1]. He said he likes the "every six months", because "the more often they report, the hotter the trail is." 9:11:11 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG withdrew Amendment 3. 9:11:43 AM CHAIR SEATON noted that the six-month report is going to the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee (BUD), not to the legislature. The former meets more regularly throughout the year than does the latter. 9:12:21 AM CHAIR SEATON reopened public testimony. [Ombudsman Linda Lord- Jenkins was asked some questions to ascertain whether she had Version Y before her, but her testimony begins later in these minutes.] 9:14:24 AM REPRESENTATIVE LYNN, regarding the reports that will be sent to BUD, stated his assumption that the reports would be made available to anyone in the legislature who would like to review them. 9:14:44 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG said he doesn't know whether BUD would consider those reports confidential and, if so, whether language should be added to allow access to members of the legislature. 9:15:03 AM REPRESENTATIVE LYNN clarified that he is not talking about "the particulars of each complaint," but rather "the numbers of this, the numbers of that, in broad categories." 9:15:17 AM CHAIR SEATON told Representative Lynn that the details are held confidential by the ombudsman and the report would detail the number of calls and types of fraud waste and abuse that have been reported. 9:16:21 AM MR. PAWLOWSKI, in response to a question from Chair Seaton, stated his understanding that it would be the prerogative of the chair of BUD [whether or not to make the reports available to the legislature]. He emphasized that it is not the intent of the sponsor that the records be kept confidential, primarily because the information could be helpful to legislators working through "the typical budget process that we do work through every year." 9:17:00 AM CHAIR SEATON asked if [BUD] typically reports back to the legislature at the beginning of a new legislature regarding "the activity they've taken in our behalf in the interim." 9:17:30 AM REPRESENTATIVE ELKINS said he doesn't think so. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG said no. 9:17:35 AM REPRESENTATIVE LYNN suggested language to allow the legislature to request the reports. 9:18:03 AM CHAIR SEATON stated that he thinks the entire function of [BUD] is to serve in the legislature's stead, and he thinks all the records of that committee are available to the legislature. 9:18:31 AM REPRESENTATIVE ELKINS said he thinks "any one of us" could request the blanket report from the ombudsman, because it's probably a public document. 9:18:54 AM CHAIR SEATON directed attention to page 2, [subsection (d), as amended], which read: "The ombudsman shall report to the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee every six months regarding the number of calls, and the types of fraud, waste, and abuse reported through the hotline program." He asked the state ombudsman if that would be a document available to the public. 9:19:17 AM LINDA LORD-JENKINS, Ombudsman, Office of the Ombudsman - Anchorage, responded, "It could be a report depending on how we redact specific information from it." 9:19:33 AM CHAIR SEATON indicated that, as the bill reads, there should not be any information in the report that would need redacting, because the legislature would not be asking for anything that would be confidential or would identify [any person contacting the hotline]. 9:19:55 AM MS. JENKINS, in response to a question from Chair Seaton, confirmed that she would make the report available even if she had to make some redactions. 9:20:57 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG noted that the bill would be heard next in the House Judiciary Standing Committee. He asked that Ms. Lord-Jenkins and Mr. Pawlowski work with John McKay, the attorney for the Anchorage Daily News, to "determine the answer to that question and, if necessary, come up with some language." He committed to offer that [language] in the House Judiciary Standing Committee if it is a reasonable solution. REPRESENTATIVE LYNN said that would satisfy him. REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER suggested that the report be routinely sent by e-mail to all sitting legislators. 9:21:34 AM REPRESENTATIVE ELKINS said [the report] is a public document, but he sees negative pitfalls in "making this too big of a public field." He said the press can take something minor and blow it out of proportion, so he advised against making a big deal that it is public. 9:22:34 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG said - Representative Gardner's consideration aside - he wants to ensure that there is an answer to the question regarding public document law. 9:23:16 AM MR. PAWLOWSKI said he agrees with Representative Gruenberg that it isn't explicit in law, and he said it would concern the sponsor if members of [the legislature] didn't have access to the reports. 9:24:14 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG explained that Representative Gardner's suggestion would send the reports directly to the legislators, not the entire public. 9:24:33 AM REPRESENTATIVE ELKINS said he understands that, but quipped, "And we all know without a shadow of a doubt that our e-mails are very safe and very sacred." 9:24:48 AM CHAIR SEATON said getting reports from numerous agencies is a standard requirement. He said the only reason he thinks the report would be going to [BUD] instead of to the legislature is if "we're going to be getting reports on an interim basis that the legislature wouldn't be able to receive." 9:25:42 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG suggested [to Representative Gardner that she could offer an amendment to] change the words "Legislative Budget and Audit Committee" on page 2, lines 12-13, to "Legislature". 9:26:10 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER said, "It seems to me that if the report formally goes to the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee they have a duty to review it." She said she just wants to be able to see the reports. 9:26:33 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG indicated that the language just states that the report is sent to [BUD]; it doesn't mean that anybody will look at it. He said if Representative Gardner wants the report to be available to the legislature, he would support an amendment to that intent. 9:27:03 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER moved to adopt Amendment 4, as follows: Page 2, lines 12-13: Delete "Legislative Budget and Audit Committee" Insert "legislature" REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER said, "I just think we need to know if there's thousands of these or a couple dozen." 9:27:48 AM REPRESENTATIVE ELKINS objected to Amendment 4. He said he thinks if [BUD] is doing its job, it would be certain to let the legislature know if it sees any danger signs, for example. 9:28:18 AM CHAIR SEATON asked Representative Gardner if she still wants the report to be sent every six months, or if she would like to change it to annually. 9:28:45 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER said it is fine to leave the language at "every six months" [on page 2, line 13]. 9:28:54 AM CHAIR SEATON restated Amendment 4. 9:29:25 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER added, "I envisioned something in the nature simply of an e-mail, with maybe an attached synopsis list." 9:29:33 AM CHAIR SEATON asked if Representative Gardner wanted to change Amendment 4 to read "shall report electronically to the legislature". 9:29:49 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER said it doesn't matter. 9:29:55 AM MR. PAWLOWSKI recommended the requirement to send the report to the legislature be additional language, rather than replacement language. He explained that given the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee's specific purview and jurisdiction over the "legislative audit division," the reports could have very significant meaning for that committee. REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER withdrew Amendment 4. 9:31:32 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER moved [Conceptual] Amendment 5, as follows: Page 2, line 13: After "every six months" Insert ", and to the legislature annually," REPRESENTATIVE ELKINS objected to [Conceptual] Amendment 5. He said he thinks the committee made some good amendments to the bill already and now is starting to "gum it up." 9:32:42 AM A roll call vote was taken. Representatives Gardner, Gruenberg, Lynn, and Seaton voted in favor of Conceptual Amendment 5. Representative Elkins voted against it. Therefore, Conceptual Amendment 5 passed by a vote of 4-1. 9:34:38 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER moved to report CSHB 86, Version 24- LS0237\Y, Craver, 4/20/05, as amended, out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes. There being no objection, CSHB 86(STA) was reported out of the House State Affairs Standing Committee.