Legislature(2021 - 2022)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)
04/27/2021 03:30 PM Senate COMMUNITY & REGIONAL AFFAIRS
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SB 81-VILLAGE PUBLIC SAFETY OFFICER GRANTS 4:04:20 PM CHAIR HUGHES announced the consideration of SENATE BILL NO. 81, "An Act requiring background investigations of village public safety officer applicants by the Department of Public Safety; relating to the village public safety officer program; and providing for an effective date." CHAIR HUGHES noted that the proposed committee substitute (CS) for SB 81 was based on the changes the sponsor's office recommended. SENATOR MYERS moved to adopt the CS for SB 81, work order 32- LS0362\I, as the working document. 4:04:59 PM CHAIR HUGHES objected for discussion purposes. 4:05:09 PM SENATOR DONNY OLSON, Alaska State Legislature, Juneau, Alaska, sponsor of SB 81, characterized the legislation as a work in progress over the last several years. It would require the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to conduct background investigations on VPSO applicants and provide an effective date. He deferred further comment to his staff, Mr. Truitt. 4:05:48 PM KEN TRUITT, Staff, Senator Donny Olson, Alaska State Legislature, reminded the committee that during the initial hearing on SB 81, he mentioned that the stakeholders were interested in amending the original bill to retain management of the VPSO Program grant within the Department of Public Safety (DPS) rather than transferring it to the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development (DCCED). That is what the CS, version I, accomplishes. He noted that only the former Section 5 was affected. It proposed an amendment to DCCED's enabling statute to give specific authority to that department to manage the grant. That section was removed, and the subsequent four sections were renumbered accordingly. 4:07:30 PM CHAIR HUGHES found no questions or comments and removed her objection. Finding no further objection, CSSB 81, version I, was adopted as the working document. 4:08:09 PM CHAIR HUGHES announced invited testimony. 4:08:18 PM JASON WILSON, Manager, Public Safety Department, Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Juneau, Alaska, advised that he has been the region's VPSO coordinator for about 16 years. He related that Tlingit & Haida has over 32,000 rural tribal citizens throughout the state, many of whom live in communities that are not connected to the road system. They are most accessible by boat or plane. In these communities, the VPSO program fills a critical law enforcement need. He reported that Tlingit & Haida currently has 10 VPSOs located in Hydaburg, Saxman, Kake, Angoon, Pelican, Kasaan, and Thorn Bay. MR. WILSON stated support for SB 81 and thanked the sponsor and his staff for their tireless work on the legislation to provide more flexibility within the VPSO program so coordinators are able fill VPSO positions and get the equipment that officers need to do their job. He said the program was developed in 1978 and many of the statutes and regulations governing the program have not been updated since then. He mentioned the importance of government-to-government communication and expressed confidence that SB 81 would help ensure that funding for the VPSO Program does not change with each administration and DPS commissioner. He reiterated Tlingit and Haida's support for SB 81 and its commitment to stand with the state to find solutions to provide public safety to rural communities in Alaska. 4:15:41 PM MICHAEL NEMETH, VPSO Coordinator, Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association (APIA), Anchorage, Alaska, stated that he has been a certified village public safety officer since 2002 and the VPSO Coordinator for APIA for the past nine years. He described SB 81 as a bipartisan boots-on-the-ground all stakeholder effort to improve the VPSO Program. He related that the training requirement for VPSOs under 13 AAC 96.100 of the Alaska Administrative Code is 240 hours, which is shamefully low. Officers currently receive 1,000 hours of training at the academy as well as 96 hours of rural fire protection training, but an arbitrary decision could reduce that training to the minimum. Additionally, just some VPSO programs continue to provide emergency trauma technician training because it is no longer required. This change was made without consultation. He said interpretation of the code and regulation has been inconsistent and it has affected the ability of VPSOs to do their job. 4:18:32 PM MR. NEMETH highlighted that SB 81 sets the minimum training requirement to 826 hours, 650 hours of which is law enforcement training. This is the minimum that the Alaska Police Standards Council will accept for a police officer in Alaska. He expressed support for 96 hours of rural fire protection training, reinstating the 40 hours of emergency trauma technician training, and 40 hours for search and rescue. He noted that the Alaska Law Enforcement Training Academy currently devotes just eight hours to search and rescue. He said the proposed new minimum training hours will give VPSOs confidence to fulfill the duties of the position, help with recruitment and retention, and improve the overall quality of the officer. 4:21:21 PM DARRELL HILDEBRAND, VPSO Coordinator, Public Safety Director, Tanana Chiefs Conference, Fairbanks, Alaska, stated that he retired as an Alaska State Trooper after 20 years of service. Tanana Chiefs Conference hired him as the VPSO Coordinator about 18 months ago. He stated support for SB 81 generally and specifically for the flexibility to allow TCC to utilize roving VPSOs. He noted that not explicitly prohibited in the previous regulations, but administrations viewed the need to budget for them differently. SB 81 eliminates the fear that a new administration might withhold funding to a grantee for using the rover program. MR. HILDEBRAND highlighted the advantages of roving VPSOs. They serve multiple communities with less manpower, provide continuity of service, and provide coverage when the Alaska State Troopers (AST) cannot fly into a village due to weather or manpower issues. He related that the TCC region has 37 villages with no public safety presence except through limited AST rural visits. The rover program was very effective in the past and made it possible for TCC to serve more communities with limited VPSOs. He acknowledged the perceived drawback to the rover program was that it created a significant increase in TCC's travel budget. However, the positive outcomes included community policing, identification of infrastructure needs such as fire protection, general outreach, and increased law enforcement presence. He said the relationship with AST counterparts is strong, the rover program has a proven record, and it is the best solution to the high demand and need for VPSOs in the TCC region that has limited law enforcement resources. MR. HILDEBRAND thanked the sponsor for introducing SB 81, which would allow TCC the flexibility to utilize rover VPSOs to better serve communities. SENATOR GRAY-JACKSON asked Mr. Nemeth in what community he worked as a VPSO. MR. NEMETH answered that as the VPSO Coordinator for the Aleutian Pribilof Island region he is based in the main office in Anchorage. He noted that as an officer he served in the communities of Saint George and Nelson Lagoon. 4:25:56 PM CHAIR HUGHES asked if he supported the 826 hours of training or if he was suggesting changes. She noted he specified 40 hours for emergency medical services training. MR. NEMETH said having the 826 hours in the bill and the flexibility to formulate the training as he enumerated seemed reasonable, but it would be more straightforward it was specified in the bill. 4:27:10 PM CHAIR HUGHES asked him to submit the list to the committee and she would provide it to the sponsor to have the conversation. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org. CHAIR HUGHES asked Mr. Hildebrand if regional rover VPSOs were specifically mentioned in the bill or if he was suggesting they be allowed. 4:27:55 PM MR. HILDEBRAND replied the bill does not specifically mention regional rovers, but it allows grantees the flexibility to work with the program office ... [The call was dropped]. CHAIR HUGHES asked the sponsor if the use of regional rovers was a specific provision in the bill. 4:28:38 PM SENATOR OLSON answered it was a good idea. He deferred to Mr. Truitt to point to the location in the bill that provides flexibility to use rovers. 4:28:50 PM MR. TRUITT directed attention to page 5, lines 4-10 that speaks to one VPSO per village and the option for the grant recipient to request more than one. He said the bill was specifically drafted to remove the prohibition against hiring itinerant roving VPSOs and make the practice acceptable. CHAIR HUGHES asked if he was saying that was addressed in the bill or if clarifying language was necessary. MR. TRUITT replied he would verify that it was addressed and communicate the exact page and line. 4:30:19 PM SENATOR GRAY-JACKSON commented on her experience with the VPSO Program when she was the city manager for the City of Akutan from 2009-2012. She thanked the sponsor for bringing the bill forward and noted that she was a co-sponsor. CHAIR HUGHES asked Mr. Truitt if he had closing comments. 4:30:50 PM MR. TRUITT answered the Chair's question about roving VPSOs. He read subsection (f) on page 5 and relayed that Legislative Legal did not use the term "roving" based on their drafting manual. Rather, the provision refers to traveling village public safety officers who serve multiple villages within the grantee's region. 4:31:17 PM CHAIR HUGHES asked him to follow up with Mr. Hildebrand and relay that information. 4:31:57 PM CHAIR HUGHES [held SB 81 in committee.]