Legislature(2017 - 2018)GRUENBERG 120
04/18/2017 03:00 PM STATE AFFAIRS
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HB 235-NORTH STAR MEDAL 3:07:41 PM CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS announced that the first order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 235, "An Act creating the North Star Medal." CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS, as prime sponsor of HB 235, stated that the intent of HB 235 is to recognize first responders and law enforcement personnel at the state level like the Purple Heart does on the national level. He mentioned that the proposed legislation was the idea of former Representative Bob Lynn and resulted from collaboration with Mr. Lynn. 3:09:14 PM STEPHANIE GILARDI, Staff, Representative Jonathan Kreiss- Tomkins, Alaska State Legislature, on behalf of Representative Kreiss-Tomkins, prime sponsor of HB 235, stated that HB 235 would create the North Star Medal, which would serve as a symbol of gratitude from the people of Alaska to first responders and law enforcement personnel. She asserted that the medal is meant to be a rare and high honor awarded by the governor to individuals who are injured or killed in the line of duty while exhibiting great courage in the service of their fellow Alaskans. She said that firefighters, peace officers, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and search and rescue (SAR) volunteers would all be eligible for the award. The category of peace officer includes police officers, Village Public Safety Officers (VPSOs), Alaska State Trooper (AST) troopers, municipal police, and corrections officers. MS. GILARDI relayed that other states, such as Idaho, Illinois, Oregon, and Texas, have similar awards honoring first responders and law enforcement for meritorious conduct and/or death or injury in the line of duty. She maintained that the proposed legislation would create an award that would honor Alaska's fallen heroes. MS. GILARDI stated that there is one comparable award that currently exists in Alaska - the Alaska Medal of Heroism - created by the legislature in 1965, which has been awarded several times to recognize heroic and valorous deeds. She offered that the difference [between that medal and the one currently being proposed] is that the Alaska Medal of Heroism can be awarded to any person and most often is awarded for spontaneous acts of bravery, such as saving people from fire, car crashes, or airplane wrecks. The North Star Medal would not duplicate this award. While the recipients of the Alaska Medal of Heroism are ordinary citizens responding to extraordinary events with courage, the North Star Medal would honor people who "show up" each day knowing that during their work, they could be asked to sacrifice their lives to protect their fellow Alaskans. MS. GILARDI relayed that nominations for the North Star Medal may originate within communities and [state] departments. The nominee names would be passed on to the highest-ranking supervisor in that department and forwarded to the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety (DPS), who would review the nominations and pass them on to the governor. She said the medals would be awarded by the governor in a ceremony occurring no more than once per year; if the honoree is no longer living or unable to accept the award, it would be presented to his/her next of kin. MS. GILARDI related that staff has been working closely with DPS; the DPS already creates and designs awards for its own employees and would be amenable to designing this one. She thanked Commissioner Monegan for assisting with naming the medal. CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS mentioned that HB 235 would complement HB 23 [signed into law 6/21/17], which created benefits for survivors of those felled in the line of duty. 3:13:06 PM REPRESENTATIVE TUCK asked if the Purple Heart may be awarded to a member of the [Alaska] National Guard or a member of the organized militia of Alaska who respond to emergencies. MS. GILARDI responded that there is a military honor, which was created in 2007 - the Alaska Declaration of Honor - that may be awarded to members of the military such as guardsmen. 3:13:54 PM REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON asked which award - the North Star Medal or the Alaska Medal of Heroism - would be appropriate for a SAR volunteer. MS. GILARDI answered that she included the SAR volunteers among those eligible for the North Star Medal because they work closely with law enforcement and have made commitments to serve in an organization devoted to helping other people; they are on call like first responders; and they are willing to put themselves in danger. REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON offered that SAR volunteers would be like volunteer firefighters who are members of an active volunteer corps. MS. GILARDI replied, that's correct. 3:15:31 PM REPRESENTATIVE WOOL referred to the letter, included in the committee packet, from the Alaska Correctional Officers Association (ACOA) and asked for confirmation that this group would be included under the category "peace officers." MS. GILARDI answered, "Yes they are." 3:16:05 PM BOB LYNN testified, "There is a medal that Alaska needs, that too many people deserve, but nobody wants." He relayed that the U.S. Armed Forces has the Purple Heart, which is awarded to someone who is wounded or killed in a hostile action. He maintained that Alaska law enforcement heroes and those working with them, who are wounded or killed by hostile actions by opponents of law and order - thugs, criminals, and the scum of humanity - are deserving of such a medal. He said that HB 235 proposes such a medal, which would be titled the "North Star Medal." He offered that Alaska's budget issues are important, but so is honoring law enforcement through the proposed legislation. He stated that without the help and support of the military overseas and law enforcement at home, all other issues, including budget issues, are moot. He maintained that when law enforcement officers are wounded or killed on behalf of Alaskans, there needs to be special recognition by the State of Alaska; that is what is proposed under HB 235; and it is the least Alaska can do. MR. LYNN stated that he has a special interest in the proposed legislation due to having been a law officer himself and having many family members in law enforcement. He said, "By the grace of God, none of our family were ever wounded or killed, but we had comrades and friends who were." He maintained that these people should have been awarded special recognition by their states, just as a member of the military is awarded a Purple Heart by a grateful nation. He urged the committee to pass HB 235. 3:19:08 PM REPRESENTATIVE BIRCH expressed his appreciation and support for the proposed legislation. 3:20:27 PM WALT MONEGAN, Commissioner Designee, Department of Public Safety (DPS), stated that his father, Walt Monegan, Jr., was a U.S. (Marine Corps) marine, killed in action during the Korean War and posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Commissioner Monegan relayed that he was in utero when his father died, so never met his father. He stated that the medal is proudly displayed in his home and has served as a physical reminder since childhood that "I, too, must believe in something larger than myself." Commissioner Monegan offered that the award being considered under HB 235 is a similar form of recognition [as the Purple Heart] of a first responder who has answered a threat in a manner that is above and beyond the call of duty. He maintained that the medal will honor its wearer and his/her family, and it will serve as a reminder that there are still brave and noble Alaskans who also believe in things that are bigger than themselves. 3:22:10 PM ED MERCER, Deputy Chief, Juneau Police Department (JPD), relayed a story of heroism and sacrifice as follows: On April 2015, two general police officers responded to a call involving an airline passenger who violated a rule on the airplane. The officers contacted the passenger near the tarmac, who provided the officers with a fake name, then became increasingly agitated. The man took off running toward the restricted area of the tarmac, and both officers pursued him. After a brief chase, the officers tackled the man; the man tried to take one officer's handgun; and the other officer tried to subdue the man applying several soft- and hard-hand techniques to no avail. The man continued to try to remove the officer's gun, but the other officer hit the man until the man stopped. The man then started to grab the officer's taser and was stopped only after the other officer pulled out his taser and demanded the man to stop. The man was arrested, and JPD learned that the man had an outstanding warrant in another state. Although no one was killed in this incident, one of the officers sustained an injury resulting in months of missed work, surgery, and rehabilitation. MR. MERCER stated that he believes policing is one of the noblest professions a person can undertake. It is one with incredible rewards and responsibilities; however, it is not without risk or sacrifice. He said that the story he related is just one example, and he maintained that across Alaska law enforcement, fire fighters, first responders, and SAR volunteers risk their lives daily in service to the communities of Alaska. He asserted that it is for this reason he supports HB 235 and the North Star Medal. 3:24:32 PM DAVID CAMPBELL, Lieutenant, Juneau Police Department, relayed that in preparation for testifying, he walked through the police department and asked each officer he encountered whether he/she had ever been injured or assaulted in the line of duty. He stated that except for two officers, every officer with whom he spoke had been assaulted. He offered that he has been assaulted four times over the course of his 22 years with JPD. He related the story of one officer: The officer arrested a suspect who sucker punched him, grabbed him in a headlock, and tried to gouge out his eye. The officer was rescued by an off-duty police officer from Colorado; the suspect was tasered and taken into custody. The officer missed time from work while his eye was recovering from a scratched cornea. MR. CAMPBELL attested to the humility of that officer in relating his story and of all the officers who told Mr. Campbell of their injuries on the job. He stated that he looked at the Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) Program statistics for 2016 and learned that for JPD with 55 officers, there were 20 reports of officers injured in the line of duty by assaultive behavior. MR. CAMPBELL maintained that the North Star Medal is a good idea for two reasons. First, it would counteract "police cynicism" - the tendency of police officers to contract a negative view of society after dealing with negative things every day. He maintained that two of his favorite days of the year are the [National] Police Memorial Day and the National Night Out in Juneau, because regular citizens come out to these events and thank the police for the work they do; it demonstrates to police officers that there are good people "out there" who care about them. He asserted that this medal would represent a show of support and respect from the highest office in the state. MR. CAMPBELL offered the second reason that the North Star Medal is a good idea: the average citizen in the state may not realize how dangerous it is to be a law enforcement officer; it would be a reminder that not just those making the ultimate sacrifice should be recognized, but people who get assaulted on a regular basis. He suggested that the award may counter some of the negative rhetoric against police officers, heard across the nation. 3:27:37 PM REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON thanked the officers for serving; mentioned that she has attended the [National] Police Memorial Day in Anchorage; and expressed her support for the proposed legislation. CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS concurred. 3:28:44 PM REPRESENTATIVE TUCK asked if any police officers have received the Alaska Medal of Heroism. MR. CAMPBELL replied that he did not know, but JPD has an internal process to bestow awards; the officer in Mr. Mercer's narration was given a local award. He maintained that he supports the North Star Medal for law enforcement as well as civilians, because he believes that statewide recognition would "go a long way" to let Alaskans know that sacrifices are being made. 3:29:54 PM DARYL WEBSTER, Assistant Superintendent, Lemon Creek Correctional Center (LCCC), Department of Corrections (DOC), testified that he is in support of HB 235, because he was a police officer for 28 years before working for DOC. He said his father was a police officer; and as a child, Mr. Webster experienced his first police officer funeral when his father's best friend was shot to death, while on duty, by a barricaded armed robber. He relayed that during the time he was a police officer, he attended the funerals of two of his coworkers, who were shot to death. He added that many of his coworkers have been injured, as has he. MR. WEBSTER asserted that he is sensitive to the sacrifices that Alaska's first responders make and the need to recognize them for those sacrifices. He maintained that the award would send a message to Alaska's emergency service workers that Alaskans are aware of what they do. He offered that it is easy for first responders to feel that their work and suffering is unappreciated except by their coworkers; they need to be reminded that Alaskans understand "what they're going through." He asserted that workers in this field recognize that they may be injured or killed, but they want it to mean something. He offered that sometimes all that is needed is a small but sincere gesture to inspire other people to heroic service, and it is a gesture worth making. MR. WEBSTER reiterated that the award would demonstrate Alaska's recognition that the sacrifice of an officer is not his/her sacrifice alone but is the sacrifice of his/her family, colleagues, and society. He offered his support for the proposed legislation. 3:32:20 PM TROY LARUE, Division Operations Manager, Statewide Aviation, Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT&PF), testified that he has worked with many dedicated first responders across the state for 20 years. He said that Alaska has an extremely diverse population in all walks of life, but saving lives transcends all personal differences. He maintained that emergency responders, whether volunteers or paid staff, spend countless hours in training and preparation to save lives and property. He stated that when an emergency responder arrives at a scene, most of the time he/she has limited information as to what he/she might be facing; the first rule for a responder is "to stay the rescuer and not join the list of people who need to be rescued." He said that unfortunately there are occasions when some of Alaska's first responders find themselves in harm's way; and Alaska needs a clear vision of how it honors its fallen and injured emergency personnel. He expressed his belief that HB 235 is more than a provision to hand out awards; it is a method to show appreciation for personal sacrifice when tragedy strikes. 3:34:23 PM STEVE BEAR, Colonel, Director, Division of Alaska Wildlife Troopers (AWT), Department of Public Safety (DPS), testified that the Purple Heart was created for military personnel many years ago, because it realized the importance of recognizing the sacrifices that people make, and the North Star Medal would "go a long way" towards doing the same. He mentioned that in his many years with DPS and the military, he has become aware of many people deserving of such a medal and the importance of such recognition to their families. He offered that these public servants work for individual departments but serve all citizens of the State of Alaska. He expressed his appreciation for the inclusion of SAR volunteers, because there are many organized SAR groups who save many lives every year; and without their service, there would be many more deaths in Alaska. 3:36:43 PM NICK SZABO, Vice President, Alaska Search and Rescue Association (ASARA), referred to the letter from Corey Aist, President, ASARA [included in the committee packet]. He stated that ASARA represents over 750 SAR volunteers across the state, who are organized into about 50 SAR teams; most are unpaid volunteers dispatched by the Alaska State Troopers (AST) [DPS] to assist in searching for and rescuing lost people in the wilderness and back country. He pointed out that HB 235 would not cost the state money. He maintained that ASARA fully supports HB 235, and he urged the committee to support the proposed legislation. 3:38:10 PM REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON reiterated that she appreciates the proposed legislation, especially considering the size of the state and the abundance of outdoor activity in the state. CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS announced that HB 235 would be held over.