Legislature(2023 - 2024)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)

03/28/2023 01:30 PM Senate COMMUNITY & REGIONAL AFFAIRS

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Heard & Held
-- Invited & Public Testimony --
Moved CSSB 77(CRA) Out of Committee
**Streamed live on AKL.tv**
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
             SB 103-PEER SUPPORT COUNSELING PROGRAM                                                                         
1:33:18 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR DUNBAR announced  the consideration of SENATE  BILL NO. 103                                                               
"An  Act relating  to peer  support counseling  programs for  law                                                               
enforcement  agencies,  emergency   service  providers,  and  the                                                               
Department of Corrections."                                                                                                     
CHAIR DUNBAR stated  this is the first hearing of  this bill. The                                                               
intention  is  to  hear  the  introduction,  sectional  analysis,                                                               
invited testimony, committee discussion, and public testimony.                                                                  
1:34:06 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  DUNBAR,  speaking  as  the  sponsor,  introduced  SB  103,                                                               
stating  the  bill  gives  law  enforcement  agencies  and  first                                                               
responders  the  option  to  create  a  peer  support  counseling                                                               
program  and  provide  a  level   of  confidentiality  for  those                                                               
undergoing counseling.  Through this  bill, agencies  can address                                                               
the challenges  first responders  experience with  mental illness                                                               
and  trauma.   Mental  health  statistics  for   first  responder                                                               
professions are sobering. He said  30 percent of first responders                                                               
experience depression  and post-traumatic stress  disorder (PTSD)                                                               
compared  to 20  percent  in the  general population.  Sixty-nine                                                               
percent of  emergency medical service (EMS)  providers report not                                                               
having time to recover after a stressful event.                                                                                 
CHAIR DUNBAR said that SB  103 allows the department to designate                                                               
employees  as  peer   support  counselors.  Designated  employees                                                               
receive  training that  includes  providing  emotional and  moral                                                               
support  to first  responders who  have been  traumatized on  the                                                               
job. Illinois, Idaho, Indiana, South  Dakota, and Texas have peer                                                               
support  programs  for  EMS  and  law  enforcement  with  varying                                                               
degrees of confidentiality provisions.  He said the Department of                                                               
Public  Safety (DPS)  and the  Anchorage Police  Department (APD)                                                               
have   already  implemented   peer  support   programs.  However,                                                               
confidentiality  is  not  part of  those  programs;  without  it,                                                               
participation in  the program is  low. SB 103 provides  that peer                                                               
support   conversations   would   be  confidential   with   these                                                               
- threats of harm to self or others,                                                                                            
- admissions of criminal conduct, and                                                                                           
- information about children and vulnerable adults at risk.                                                                     
SB  103 allows  first  responders to  seek  assistance with  less                                                               
stigma  and more  assurance that  they can  return to  their jobs                                                               
after working through their experiences with someone who has                                                                    
been in their position.                                                                                                         
CHAIR DUNBAR invited Ms. Wiggin to put herself on the record and                                                                
present the sectional analysis for SB 103.                                                                                      
1:35:47 PM                                                                                                                    
Senators Giessel and Olson joined the meeting.                                                                                  
1:35:58 PM                                                                                                                    
ARIELLE WIGGIN, Staff, Senator Forrest Dunbar, Alaska State                                                                     
Legislature, Juneau, Alaska, presented the sectional analysis                                                                   
for SB 103:                                                                                                                     
[Original punctuation provided.]                                                                                                
                       SECTIONAL ANALYSIS                                                                                       
            SB 103: PEER SUPPORT COUNSELING PROGRAM                                                                             
     Section 1: Amends AS  18.95 Miscellaneous Provisions by                                                                  
     adding the following sections:                                                                                             
          18.95.020 Peer Support Counseling: Grants the                                                                         
     ability to law  enforcement agencies, emergency service                                                                    
     providers,  and   the  Department  of   Corrections  to                                                                    
     establish peer support counseling.                                                                                         
          18.95.030       Peer      Support       Counseling                                                                    
     Confidentiality:  Establishes that  communications made                                                                    
     between participants  and counselors  are confidential;                                                                    
     provides exemptions including:                                                                                             
        • Threats of harm to self or others                                                                                     
       • Information covered by mandatory reporting laws.                                                                       
        • Admissions of criminal conduct                                                                                        
        • Information on abuse of vulnerable adults or                                                                          
        • Information acquired during the regular course of                                                                     
          18.95.040 Definitions: Defines terms used in AS                                                                       
     18.95.020  and  AS  18.95.030, to  include  department,                                                                    
     emergency   services   personnel,   emergency   service                                                                    
     provider, law  enforcement agency, peace  officer, peer                                                                    
     support   counseling,  and   peer  support   counseling                                                                    
1:37:22 PM                                                                                                                    
KELLY   HUSTON,  Peer   Support  Coordinator,   Anchorage  Police                                                               
Department, Anchorage,  Alaska, gave invited testimony  on SB 103                                                               
and indicated her involvement with  the peer support team for the                                                               
Anchorage Police Department (APD)  since the program's inception.                                                               
Thirty  trained  individuals  are   on  the  peer  support  team,                                                               
including   sworn    officers,   record    clerks,   dispatchers,                                                               
supervisors, and detectives. She  described the training required                                                               
to become  a peer support  counselor. Selected peer  support team                                                               
members complete  an intense 40-hour  training course and  sign a                                                               
confidentiality  agreement.  The  training program  teaches  team                                                               
members  how  to  do one-on-one  care  counseling  and  defusing.                                                               
Defusing occurs right after a  critical incident. She said that a                                                               
fairly horrific event  had just happened at  the Anchorage Police                                                               
Department,  and  within minutes,  peer  support  arrived on  the                                                               
scene. The training program teaches  team members how to defuse a                                                               
situation while on scene, what to  expect next, and how to follow                                                               
up.  They   provide  resources  and  information   about  seeking                                                               
additional help, especially if an  officer exhibits symptoms like                                                               
nightmares and not eating.                                                                                                      
MS.  HUSTON said  the team  supported over  100 incidents  in the                                                               
previous  couple  of  years,  but not  all  were  critical.  Some                                                               
incidents involved  off-duty, personal  issues, like  divorce and                                                               
family  deaths. She  explained  that it  is  difficult for  first                                                               
responders to  deal with  the everyday trauma  of the  public and                                                               
then go  home and deal  with significant family issues.  The team                                                               
provides support  to officers  on duty  and off.  The idea  is to                                                               
have healthy and  resilient law enforcement officers  on the job,                                                               
which sometimes  means providing  personal support.  She conveyed                                                               
how near and dear  the program is to her, how  it saves lives and                                                               
has prevented deaths by suicide.                                                                                                
1:43:25 PM                                                                                                                    
ANGELINO  SALVATO,  Anchorage  Police Officer,  Anchorage  Police                                                               
Department, Anchorage, Alaska, highlighted  her 22-year career in                                                               
law  enforcement,  noting  that  she worked  with  the  Anchorage                                                               
Police Department  Employees Association (APDEA) and  APD to help                                                               
sponsor this bill.  She recounted her involvement  in an officer-                                                               
involved shooting. The unfortunate reality of an officer-                                                                       
involved  shooting or  in-custody death  is that  the officer  is                                                               
immediately  put  in  the position  of  criminal  defendant.  She                                                               
conveyed   that  she   attended  almost   every  officer-involved                                                               
shooting  in  the last  five  years  as an  employee  association                                                               
advocate  and   union  member,  and  almost   immediately,  these                                                               
officers  met  with their  criminal  defense  attorneys and  were                                                               
advised not to talk to anybody.                                                                                                 
MS.  SALVATO said  she  was  not allowed  to  participate in  any                                                               
stress   management.   Legally    protected   communication   was                                                               
permitted, like spousal,  attorney, and clergy-privileged speech;                                                               
however, speaking  with an officer  who had a  similar experience                                                               
was  not. She  did not  talk to  anyone for  two years  about her                                                               
incident.  SB  103 minimizes  officer  isolation  by providing  a                                                               
mechanism to communicate with a  trained peer counselor. She said                                                               
SB  103 is  a  healthy  alternative to  alcohol  or other  coping                                                               
mechanisms  and  does  not protect  "bad  apples."  Other  states                                                               
nationwide and Congress have passed similar laws.                                                                               
1:47:56 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  BJORKMAN  expressed  concern about  the  confidentiality                                                               
exceptions  on page  2, line  31 through  page 3,  line 2  of the                                                               
bill, stating they ostensibly defeat  the purpose of the program.                                                               
He asked her to speak to his concern.                                                                                           
MS. SALVATO  responded that many criminal  defense attorneys have                                                               
said that,  even with  SB 103,  they would  not let  their client                                                               
communicate with  a peer  support counselor.  She said  this bill                                                               
provides officers  a protected way  to talk about  human factors,                                                               
like  self-doubt,   tunnel  vision,  auditory   exclusion,  other                                                               
aspects  of an  activated sympathetic  nervous system,  and other                                                               
issues.  A  peer counselor  can  walk  an officer  through  these                                                               
SENATOR  BJORKMAN  stated  his concern  remains,  indicating  the                                                               
confidentiality  exemptions  make  it   unclear  whether  or  not                                                               
conversations would  be confidential. He indicated  that he would                                                               
rather  the law  either  protect conversations  or  not to  avoid                                                               
ambiguity; otherwise, direct individuals  to talk to their lawyer                                                               
or clergy.  He expressed  concern that a  middle course  does not                                                               
create   a   safe  space   to   discuss   issues  without   clear                                                               
MS.  SALVATO  responded  that  younger   personnel  do  not  feel                                                               
comfortable speaking with clergy or  attorneys. She said that she                                                               
spoke with her  attorney the night of her incident,  and they did                                                               
not speak to  each other again. She testified that  having a peer                                                               
counselor is  comforting. Officers often  do not want to  talk to                                                               
anyone  else  about  their  fears.   She  conveyed  that  in  her                                                               
experience  a peer  counselor has  never been  called to  testify                                                               
against another  officer or  member. She said  that SB  103 gives                                                               
some  protection  but not  all.  This  is  a  step in  the  right                                                               
direction. She suggested  that Ms. Huston might like  to speak to                                                               
the question.                                                                                                                   
CHAIR DUNBAR  asked Ms. Huston if  she would like to  address the                                                               
1:53:53 PM                                                                                                                    
MS. HUSTON replied that the aim  of a peer support program is not                                                               
to  trick officers  into criminal  admission under  the guise  of                                                               
fully protected  communication. Counselors need to  emphasize the                                                               
parameters of  their role and  that their communications  are not                                                               
fully protected when speaking to a  peer who has been involved in                                                               
an incident.  She noted that,  foremost, peers have a  sworn duty                                                               
to report  if there are  any admissions of criminal  conduct. She                                                               
said the  program is  a good  option for  officers who  feel more                                                               
comfortable opening  up to peers. She  expressed appreciation for                                                               
clergy  and attorney  privilege, stating  peer counselors  should                                                               
apprise officers of these fully protected options.                                                                              
1:57:01 PM                                                                                                                    
JAMES COCKRELL, Commissioner, Department  of Public Safety (DPS),                                                               
Anchorage,  Alaska, stated  the department  supports SB  103. DPS                                                               
started a wellness committee that  includes peer support in 2013.                                                               
Twenty-three trained  commissioned and  noncommissioned personnel                                                               
and spouses  are on  the peer support  team. The  law enforcement                                                               
community  and  emergency  personnel  see  a  host  of  tragedies                                                               
throughout their careers. When he  started in 1983, officers were                                                               
told to suck  it up, get back  in the car, and carry  on. He said                                                               
that mindset no longer exists  today, and for good reason. Crisis                                                               
and response  teams respond to  horrific and  unpleasant crashes,                                                               
and  the peer  support team  contacts them  immediately. He  said                                                               
that  dialogue  should  be  protected, whether  it  is  a  crash,                                                               
officer-involved shooting, or deadly use  of force in the line of                                                               
duty. He  said officers  who seek help  need protection  to speak                                                               
honestly and  forthrightly; SB 103  offers those  protections. He                                                               
described the  DPS peer support program  structure, stating these                                                               
programs  need  structure.  He talked  about  the  importance  of                                                               
supporting  officers involved  in a  traumatic incident  and that                                                               
DPS will  always provide  peer support  to other  law enforcement                                                               
agencies wherever  they are.  The DPS program  model is  based on                                                               
the U.S.  Marshals Service, which  has the highest level  of peer                                                               
support  in  the  federal  government.   He  garnered  a  lot  of                                                               
information and support  from the U.S. Marshals  Service when two                                                               
troopers were  killed in Fairbanks  and Tanana. He said  the U.S.                                                               
Marshals Service  supported DPS while  the department set  up its                                                               
program.   He  said   the  department   supports  all   types  of                                                               
professional law enforcement personnel, including dispatchers.                                                                  
2:02:49 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR DUNBAR opened public testimony on SB 103.                                                                                 
2:03:30 PM                                                                                                                    
CORNELIUS  SIMS, Captain,  Alaska State  Troopers, Department  of                                                               
Public Safety  (DPS), Anchorage, Alaska, testified  in support of                                                               
SB 103  and agreed with  Commissioner Cockrell's comments  on the                                                               
importance of peer support programs.                                                                                            
2:04:02 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR DUNBAR closed public testimony on SB 103.                                                                                 
2:04:11 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  GRAY-JACKSON  affirmed  her  long-standing  support  and                                                               
appreciation for the work of the public safety community.                                                                       
2:04:48 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR DUNBAR held SB 103  in committee and announced that written                                                               
testimony can be emailed to:                                                                                                    

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
1. SB 103 - Sponsor Statement vers. A.pdf SCRA 3/28/2023 1:30:00 PM
SB 103
2. SB 103 vers. A.PDF SCRA 3/28/2023 1:30:00 PM
SB 103
3. SB 103 - Sectional Analysis vers. A.pdf SCRA 3/28/2023 1:30:00 PM
SB 103
4. SB 103 Testimony Recieved as of 3.27.23.pdf SCRA 3/28/2023 1:30:00 PM
SB 103
SB 77, Amendment #1.pdf HCRA 4/13/2023 8:00:00 AM
SCRA 3/28/2023 1:30:00 PM
SB 77
C. Schutte, SB 77, LOS 3.16.23.pdf HCRA 4/13/2023 8:00:00 AM
SCRA 3/28/2023 1:30:00 PM
SB 77
SB 77, Amendment #1.B.pdf SCRA 3/28/2023 1:30:00 PM
SB 77