Legislature(2009 - 2010)CAPITOL 106

03/03/2009 08:00 AM House STATE AFFAIRS

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SJR  5-AK TERRITORIAL GUARD RETIREMENT BENEFITS                                                                               
8:48:57 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR LYNN announced that the  final order of business was SENATE                                                               
JOINT RESOLUTION  NO. 5, Urging  the United States  Department of                                                               
Defense to  pay veterans benefits  retroactively and  to continue                                                               
to  provide  retirement  benefits   for  members  of  the  Alaska                                                               
Territorial Guard who served during World War II.                                                                               
8:49:06 AM                                                                                                                    
KAREN  SAWYER,  Staff,  Senator  Charlie  Huggins,  Alaska  State                                                               
Legislature, presented SJR 5 on  behalf of Senator Huggins, prime                                                               
sponsor.   She said  the resolution asks  the U.S.  Department of                                                               
Defense  (DOD)  to  continue  retirement  funds  for  the  Alaska                                                               
Territorial Guard.  She reminded  the committee that, in response                                                               
to  a  legal glitch,  the  U.S.  Army  decided that  [the  Alaska                                                               
Territorial Guard]  was no longer eligible  for retirement funds.                                                               
The  reaction  to  that was  nationwide;  Alaska's  congressional                                                               
delegates immediately  introduced two bills, which  are presently                                                               
sitting  in Congress.   In  the mean  time, emergency  funds were                                                               
accessed  that would  cover retirement  for  60 days  only.   The                                                               
proposed  resolution  asks  that  the  retirement  fund  be  made                                                               
permanent   and   thanks   the   congressional   delegation   for                                                               
introducing the  aforementioned legislation.  Furthermore,  SJR 5                                                               
urges the Department of Defense  to continue to use its emergency                                                               
funds  until one  of the  congressional  bills is  passed or  the                                                               
decision  made in  January is  reversed.   Ms. Sawyer  stated the                                                               
sponsor's  understanding is  that the  [congressional] bills  are                                                               
made part of the Defense Act,  which is typically not heard until                                                               
August, which is well past the  60-day extension.  She noted that                                                               
she had spoken  with someone in Congressman  Begich's office, who                                                               
confirmed that "they  probably will not hear this  for quite some                                                               
time,"  and "they  will not  be using  ... any  further funds  to                                                               
continue the retirement pace."   Ms. Sawyer said the bill sponsor                                                               
hopes SJR  5 will serve  as a  continued "urging" to  Congress or                                                               
the Department of Defense.                                                                                                      
MS.  SAWYER, in  response to  a question  from Chair  Lynn, noted                                                               
that there are  26 members of the Alaska  Territorial Guard whose                                                               
retirement pay was  cut.  There are approximately  30 members "in                                                               
the  works" who  could "possibly  be  affected by  this down  the                                                               
line, once their  paperwork is completed."   She highlighted that                                                               
the members in  question are in their 80s, living  in rural parts                                                               
of  the state,  and  they depend  on this  retirement  pay.   She                                                               
opined that  this could not  have happened at  a worse time.   In                                                               
response to  a follow-up question  from Chair Lynn, she  said the                                                               
amount of money that is  being discussed is approximately $10,000                                                               
a month.   She indicated that  because of the present  age of the                                                               
recipients, this payment would not be issued long-term.                                                                         
CHAIR LYNN asked if there would  be any opportunity for the state                                                               
to help out "as a last resort."                                                                                                 
MS. SAWYER  replied that  Senator Huggins has  a bill  to address                                                               
that issue  and funds  would be  set aside.   She  indicated that                                                               
Senator  Huggins  is  waiting  to move  the  bill  until  hearing                                                               
whether or  not the Department  of Defense  is going to  "pick up                                                               
the tab for  the remaining days after 60 days."   She anticipated                                                               
that the bill would be moved sometime this month.                                                                               
CHAIR LYNN said he thinks that would be a good idea.                                                                            
8:53:43 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  recommended that  language be  added to                                                               
the  proposed   resolution  that   asks  Congress   and  relevant                                                               
committees to  take up and pass  the aforementioned congressional                                                               
bills  as soon  as  possible  and, without  delay,  to hold  some                                                               
hearings in Alaska in order to see the impact of this issue.                                                                    
MS.  SAWYER said  she will  give that  recommendation to  Senator                                                               
Huggins.  She  said both Senator Murkowski and  Begich are trying                                                               
to find vehicles  into which they can insert  their bills, rather                                                               
than in the  Defense Act.  She added that  the Senators are "very                                                               
much on top of this issue."                                                                                                     
8:56:06 AM                                                                                                                    
McHUGH  PIERRE, Director  of Communications/Legislative  Liaison,                                                               
Office  of  the   Commissioner/Adjutant  General,  Department  of                                                               
Military  &  Veterans Affairs  (DMVA),  noted  that when  General                                                               
Campbell  visited  Washington,  D.C.   last  week,  he  met  with                                                               
Secretary of  the Army, Pete  Geren, who emphasized  the critical                                                               
timing of changing  the law.  He said there  is pressure from DOD                                                               
on the Senate.   He said both Alaska Senate  offices told General                                                               
Campbell  that they  are 95  percent certain  that this  language                                                               
will be inserted  into the defense appropriations  bill that will                                                               
be passed  this fall,  and the  Alaska Territorial  Guard members                                                               
will  be  funded.   Mr.  Pierre  said  this  is a  federal  issue                                                               
regarding military  members that  have provided service  to their                                                               
country.   He spoke of  the state's  role in holding  the federal                                                               
government accountable.                                                                                                         
MS.  SAWYER,  in  response  to  Chair  Lynn,  said  the  proposed                                                               
resolution  urges DOD  to continue  paying out  of its  emergency                                                               
funds.  She  suggested that with enough letters  directed to DOD,                                                               
it  may  "continue  it."    She  added,  "Because  they  did  act                                                               
immediately upon  the actions of  our congressional  delegation -                                                               
Senator Murkowski, particularly."                                                                                               
8:58:45 AM                                                                                                                    
MR. PIERRE,  in response  to Representative  Gruenberg, confirmed                                                               
that  DOD   was  reinterpreting  an  authorizing   statute.    He                                                               
indicated that a  lawyer for the United State  Army's Division of                                                               
Personnel was  reviewing language in statute  and determined that                                                               
it  does  not  specifically  say that  Alaska  Territorial  Guard                                                               
members will  receive money  for their time  served.   Mr. Pierre                                                               
noted that  those members would  be eligible for all  the medical                                                               
benefits  provided  through  the Veterans'  Association  if  they                                                               
served a full  career.  For example, many of  those who served in                                                               
the  Alaska Territorial  Guard during  World War  II, went  on to                                                               
serve in the  military after that.  He  concluded, "This attorney                                                               
did  take it  upon himself  to  reread the  law and  to signal  a                                                               
change, and that change was ... taken off."                                                                                     
9:01:10 AM                                                                                                                    
MR. PIERRE,  in response to Representative  Gatto, clarified that                                                               
although  the bill  language states  that the  Alaska Territorial                                                               
Guard  was formed  by Territorial  Governor Ernest  Gruening, the                                                               
entity was outfitted and operated by the U.S. Army.                                                                             
REPRESENTATIVE GATTO  suggested adding  language to  clarify that                                                               
it was solely the governor's  idea to form the Alaska Territorial                                                               
9:02:59 AM                                                                                                                    
MS.  SAWYER directed  attention  to a  handout  in the  committee                                                               
packet, which  relates information  about the  Alaska Territorial                                                               
Guard from Wikipedia.   She noted that the source  states that in                                                               
1941, Major  Marvin R. Marston  was commissioned at  the Pentagon                                                               
as a  major with orders to  Alaska.  It was  anticipated that the                                                               
Alaska National  Guard would  be taken out  of Alaska  because of                                                               
WWII, which is  why Major Marston was commissioned to  set up the                                                               
Alaska Territorial Guard to defend  against the Japanese, who had                                                               
already attacked Alaska.                                                                                                        
9:03:57 AM                                                                                                                    
MS. SAWYER, in response to  Representative Gruenberg, said no one                                                               
received copies of  the legal interpretations or  language of the                                                               
federal law - not even Alaska's congressional delegates.                                                                        
MR. PIERRE  confirmed that  the department  has not  received the                                                               
interpretation  of the  aforementioned lawyer.   However,  it did                                                               
receive  cooperation from  the Division  of  Personnel "to  offer                                                               
language  to change  the  existing ...  code,  which would  allow                                                               
continued  funding  at  appropriate retirement  expectations  for                                                               
these military members."  That  language, he indicated, was given                                                               
directly to the offices of Senators Murkowski and Begich.                                                                       
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  asked if Senators Murkowski  and Begich                                                               
had  actually asked  for  a copy  of the  legal  opinion and  the                                                               
request was not honored.                                                                                                        
MS. SAWYER answered that is correct.                                                                                            
9:05:41 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG questioned why  members of Congress have                                                               
not responded.                                                                                                                  
MR.  PIERRE said  he shares  Representative Gruenberg's  outrage,                                                               
because  the resolution  identifies 26  elderly people  in Alaska                                                               
who are "in the twilight of  their life."  He urged the committee                                                               
to support the proposed legislation.                                                                                            
9:06:28 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  confirmed he is  outraged.  He  said he                                                               
feels  like  adding  language  to the  bill  that  would  require                                                               
Congress to honor such requests in the future.                                                                                  
CHAIR  LYNN said  he  agrees,  but would  not  want  to put  that                                                               
language into this resolution.                                                                                                  
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG emphasized  that  he  is astounded  and                                                               
dismayed  to hear  of this.   He  asked for  further confirmation                                                               
that Ms. Sawyer is certain the information was never provided.                                                                  
9:08:14 AM                                                                                                                    
MS. SAWYER  said, "I  don't know what  the exact  ... terminology                                                               
was that was used to their  offices, just that they were not able                                                               
to get  the legal  interpretation."  She  said to  her knowledge,                                                               
that information has still not been received.                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  asked Chair  Lynn to  find out  and let                                                               
the committee know.                                                                                                             
CHAIR LYNN clarified the committee  needs to know whether this is                                                               
a  case in  which Congress  refused  to give  information or  was                                                               
"totally nonresponsive."                                                                                                        
9:09:21 AM                                                                                                                    
MS. SAWYER said  she had heard through a staff  person in Senator                                                               
Murkowski's office that the attorney  who made the aforementioned                                                               
interpretation received a bonus.                                                                                                
9:09:44 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE SEATON  cautioned the  committee not  to insinuate                                                               
itself into  the privilege of  internal communications  and legal                                                               
opinions of an executive department.   He opined that this matter                                                               
is beyond  the scope  of the  proposed resolution.   He  said the                                                               
well-deserving people who served  in the Alaska Territorial Guard                                                               
should have  retirement, and  he does not  want the  committee to                                                               
get sidetracked to the point  of a possible confrontation between                                                               
the executive  and legislative  branch of  Congress.   He offered                                                               
his  understanding  that  there   has  been  great  communication                                                               
between General  Campbell and DOD.   He said the  legislature has                                                               
been told in  the past that the exact wording  of a resolution is                                                               
not as important as its intent, spirit, and timeliness.                                                                         
CHAIR LYNN  echoed that he  does not  want to muddy  the proposed                                                               
resolution.   Notwithstanding  that, he  said he  would find  out                                                               
information related  to the concern brought  up by Representative                                                               
Gruenberg, and keep that separate from the resolution.                                                                          
9:13:03 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG concurred.   The  underlying issue,  he                                                               
said, is that  if someone is denied his/her  benefits, he/she has                                                               
a right to know the basis for that denial.                                                                                      
CHAIR LYNN asked if there is written opinion to access.                                                                         
MS. SAWYER  said she will  give all  offices a call  to determine                                                               
whether the response was a refusal or a delay.                                                                                  
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  remarked that this could  not have been                                                               
the intent of  a law passed by  Senator Ted Stevens in  2000.  He                                                               
said this may have been an erroneous decision.                                                                                  
9:15:25 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE   GATTO  said   [the  Alaska   Territorial  Guard]                                                               
receives no  pay, and he asked  if that could be  the reason that                                                               
the  members of  it receive  no benefit,  because the  benefit is                                                               
based on pay.                                                                                                                   
MR. PIERRE answered that he does not know.                                                                                      
9:15:50 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR LYNN, after ascertaining that  there was no one to testify,                                                               
closed public testimony.                                                                                                        
9:16:08 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  SEATON  moved  to  report  CSSJR  5(FIN)  out  of                                                               
committee  with individual  recommendations and  the accompanying                                                               
fiscal  notes.    There  being no  objection,  CSSJR  5(FIN)  was                                                               
reported out of the House State Affairs Standing Committee.                                                                     

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
01 HB116 Text.pdf HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM
HB 116
01 HSTA - CS for SJR 05 SJR005 version E.pdf HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM
02 HB116 Memo.pdf HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM
HB 116
03 HB116 Sponsor Statement.pdf HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM
HB 116
04 HB116 Sectional.pdf HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM
HB 116
05 HB116 Participants.pdf HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM
HB 116
02 HSTA - SJR005-1-1-020409-FIN-N.pdf HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM
03 HSTA - CSSJR 5 ATG SPONSOR STMT.doc HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM
04 HSTA - SJR5 Sen. Murkowski's floor speech re ATG.pdf HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM
05 HSTA - Congressional 090122 ATG Delegation Letter Final.docx HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM
06 HSTA - Dir.Vet.Affairs e-mail re ATG.pdf HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM
08 HSTA - ATG -Wikipedia article.pdf HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM
10 HSTA - ATG Emergency Pay ltr from delegates 1-28-09.pdf HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM
11 HSTA - ATG REMEDIAL BILL S.342 Murkowski-Begich-Inouye.pdf HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM
15 HSTA - Andrew Brown Sr e-mail re ATG.pdf HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM
15a HSTA - Andrew Brown Sr e-mail re ATG member Paul Kiuyna Sr.pdf HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM
16 HSTA - E-mail from R&J Hills re ATG.pdf HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM
17 HSTA - AK Municipal League resolution re SJR5 2-09.pdf HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM
Andrew Brown Sr e-mail re ATG.pdf HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM
Army pay to ATG-3 articles.pdf HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM
Gov Palin's ltr to President re ATG.pdf HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM
HR744 ATG bill.pdf HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM
Letter of request for HSTA hearing on SJR 5 2-24-09.doc HSTA 3/3/2009 8:00:00 AM