Legislature(1997 - 1998)
03/24/1998 09:15 AM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
CS FOR SENATE BILL NO. 274(JUD) "An Act relating to fees for probation and parole." Co-Chair Sharp invited Senator Jerry Ward, sponsor of the bill to join the committee and speak to his request. Senator Ward's testimony was as follows: "This bill and also I have put in an amendment on it (hopefully it will be presented,) - basically what this does, it enable those people that are causing the cost to government to share in that burden of cost." "At the beginning, before the amendment, basically let me tell you what it does. What it does is it puts into place, which has been in place since 1846 and this is not to punish or to inflict punishment. What this is, is to generate revenues to offset those dollars, which the public is now paying. Every person in this room that is not on probation or parole, and with the amendment hasn't been convicted on a misdemeanor, is sharing the cost and the burden of this." "We have sent letters to all the commissioners asking them to please identify which portions of their budgets goes towards the - and I want to speak on the amendment too as well as the first part. Because that's what led me to it is when I first went into Probation and Parole and realized that there was $8.5 million being spent on this. Even going through the original bill, at the very highest level it only generates $5.5 million. That's with 100% participation. Then when I started looking, and one of the bills you just had earlier - we've got a list of all the misdemeanors - under current statutes possession of child pornography under this bill with the amendment except that they would lose their permanent fund dividend." "There is a lot of misdemeanors. I don't pretend to understand all of them but I do know that somebody's staff and somebody's legislative office spent a lot of time getting these through and putting them on the books." "If all convicted misdemeanors and all convicted people and all people on probation and parole entered into their share of the cost and if it was 100 percent successful, they would generate $25 million. This is a revenue-generating bill. That's exactly what it is. It's set up and the purpose of it is, is to take the permanent fund away from those people that are in this position to off-set the cost of getting them in this position." "The cost is the cost of charging, arresting, prosecuting and it flows through the court system, through Public Safety, to Village Public Safety, to Fish and Game, to Transportation, through almost every department there is. We have tried to gather these various costs together - and what is the total cost - and we have been so far been told that it is much too complicated to ever figure that out. But anybody that takes a look at the State's operating budget clearly realized that it's somewhere around $60 million in order to do these functions. That's taking in all the departments there are. What this does, it enables the people of the State Of Alaska to generate revenue from those people that cause the problem in order to off-set some of those costs." "I don't think that we should drop anybody from probation or parole or convicted misdemeanors just because it costs the state more than we could possibly bring in, but however in this time of measuring revenues and measuring results, this is one of the ways of doing it." "I have been down here for some time and I haven't seen very many revenue-generated mechanisms. I do believe that we should join in not only with some other states, in having our probation and parole pay for their debt to society and help to reimburse those costs. But I also feel that this is an appropriate way of doing it." "We are the only state in the union that does give out a permanent fund dividend. Under the probation and parole at $3.30 per day, it works out to roughly $100 per month, which is equal to our permanent fund dividend. Even with all the probation and parole people paying for this amount, that does not generate the $8.5 million that's needed." "You'll notice in the legislation we clearly call for professional collectors - third party collections that's because the people that are in parole and probation have not and can not have the capability to collect these, nor should they. They should do what they are hired to do, which is to be in charge of probation and parole, not to be collectors. There are third party independent people - companies that do this for a living and can do it quite well. That is who we should have do it. We've had several of them contact our office and they are available." "Coming into this, when I started to realize the tremendous cost that is put upon public safety, the departments of law, the public defenders office, and all facets of government. That's where the proposed amendments for misdemeanors to be applied at this time because they share in the burden of the cost too. They too have a debt to society and if they were not convicted they would not be causing us to have that portion of government that need to be funded at a certain level." "Right now the way this bill presently is and with the amendment, if every person were to pay it would generate $25 million. Because of child support payments and other things that come in line before these and because of multiple attachments that of course will not come to be. But it should at least hit the 50 percent level of $12 million." "I believe whole-heartedly that this debt to society that these people should share in that burden. If our burden of cost is too high to charge, prosecute and convict all of these people, then we should re-look at our underlying statutes as to their worthiness. But as it stands right now, in the reality of the day, what this is, this is a repayment of a debt to society instead of having those people that did not cause this pay the debt. That's what this bill is about. It's a revenue-generating bill." "With that I have Craig Johnson of my office who has been working on this legislation and we'll be glad to try to answer any questions that we can." That concluded Senator Ward's opening remarks. Senator Adams questioned the collection of fees. He referred to Section 3 and Section 4. Section 3, lines 13 and 14 he read into the record, "While on probation among the conditions of probation, the defendant may be required..." He pointed out that it was not mandatory that the defendant have to pay according to the language, because of the use of the word "may". However, he jumped to Section 4 and read the language stating that, "the court granting probation shall require a periodic portion." Therefore, he wondered if there was a conflicting statement between the two, because one said, "shall" and the other "may". Senator Ward told the committee his intention was for "shall". He believed the "shall" was overriding. Senator Adams said he didn't see the requirement as mandatory because of the language. Senator Adams continued his questioning and directed attention to the collection of the permanent fund dividends. He referred to Page 5, Section 8, the exemptions and where this collection was prioritized behind such obligations as child support, court-ordered restitution, defaulted scholarship loans, court-ordered fines, judgements, debts to state agencies, domestic violence statutes. The way this bill read, the parole/probation obligation would be number eight in line, he observed. He also pointed out that felons don't receive a dividend so he didn't see how the state would recover $12 million. Senator Ward responded that was why he added the misdemeanor offenses to the legislation. Their cost to the state was every bit as much. He warned that the state would need to either reduce the cost of misdemeanors or let them help pay for the debt. He stressed that they were being convicted, there was a cost and the citizens were paying for it. He apologized to the chair for speaking to an amendment that had not been offered. He gave as his reason that it had become clear to him that the system was not remotely starting to pay even a portion of what was being demanded of the citizens. He emphasized that he was trying to get those people who were burdening society with these costs to pay for a portion of their debt to society. He stressed that this was not a punishment but a revenue-generating legislation. Instead of giving them a permanent fund dividend, let those funds be directed toward reducing the parole/probation costs, he said. Senator Donley asked Senator Ward to refresh his memory of the current requirements. He thought that for a person imprisoned for a felony then released; in the year they got out and for one following year would not receive a permanent fund dividend. After that they would be eligible to receive the dividends again. Senator Ward confirmed that, but said that under this legislation, as long as they were on probation or parole there was a cost to the state and they would be liable to pay the equivalent of the PFD. Senator Ward continued, restating much of his testimony. Senator Pearce, for discussion purposes, moved for adoption of Amendment #1 and asked Senator Ward to speak to that amendment. Senator Adams objected to the motion so the committee could get an explanation from the sponsor. Senator Ward started speaking to a different amendment, which had not yet been offered. After he was corrected, he directed CRAIG JOHNSON from his office to speak to Amendment Mr. Johnson explained that the amendment was initially introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee at the request of the Permanent Fund Division. The Legislative Affairs Agency's Legal Services' staff had concerns with the word "except" and it was their belief that when language said "except for number eight in prior state agencies", the Department of Corrections was a state agency. In their interpretation, that eliminated DOC's ability to collect money under this law. Therefore this amendment was offered to correct Section 8. He explained that this was just a housekeeping amendment. Senator Adams requested that the new language be read in full, incorporating the changes from the amendment. Mr. Johnson obliged, reading, "A dept owed by an eligible individual to the agency of the state, unless the dept is contested and appeal is pending or the time of limited filing of appeal is not expired, other than for a fee under 8 of this subsection." Senator Adams understood the change would read "...a dept other than...owed by an individual". He asked to have that explained to him. Mr. Johnson replied that his understanding, the word dept was not in there. Senator Donley attempted to clarify that this was the section that referred to the fee exemption. He asked if it was the sponsor's intent to make this a case where the exemption was not available. Senator Ward said no, and read the changes as, "A debt other than for a fee under 8 of this subsection, owed by an eligible individual..." which was where he felt the change would be inserted. Senator Donley still didn't understand if the intent was to make the exemption applicable to this new fee. He wanted to know why it was mentioned there and also in Section 8. Senator Ward said his understanding was because Corrections was a department. By stating it there, it put it into chronological order. Senator Donley realized it was the order of priority. He further clarified the amendment's intent with regard to the priority. Senator Adams removed his objection. He stressed that he still did not believe the state would collect that much money with the priority order as such. Co-Chair Sharp noted there was no objection to Amendment #1 and ordered it adopted. Senator Pearce moved for adoption of Amendment #2. Co-Chair Sharp asked the sponsor for explanation of the amendment. Senator Ward spoke to the amendment as follows. "What Amendment #2 does, and there's approximately 20,000 misdemeanor convictions in the State Of Alaska. I have written a letter to all the commissioners and I haven't had a response yet. Basically what I have asked all of them is you go through this enormous list of misdemeanets all the way from fishing ones to sexual things with corpses and child pornography possession you just spoke on, there's a big list of them. But, and they cover all the departments with maybe the - I don't know which departments they wouldn't have some effect on." "So I've written to all the commissioners and asked them, because they don't have this information, exactly what is the cost of these 20,000 misdemeanants to arrest them, to charge them, to convict them, to fine them, to do whatever it is that's going to be done through the court system, and through Public Safety, through Fish and Game, through Transportation, airport police. Its a - and all my staff and I've been able to do is look at the total budget and guess. We've guessed around $60 million." "As Senator Adams clearly stated and I agree with him, this if enacted 100 percent, the $25 million, I don't believe that it will raise $25 million, but I do believe that this bill with the amendment would raise half of that. I believe it would raise about $12.5 million. I think that would go a way towards the people that are causing this debt to society to help repay part of that debt." "I don't think that we as a society should stop enforcing these laws or take them off the books, because they're there apparently for good reasons, whatever those reasons may or may not have been. I think that what this does, this is a revenue-generating mechanism." "I support this amendment because I don't think those citizens in the State Of Alaska that don't do these, that they should have to pay 100 percent of them. I think that those people that are actually convicted of them should share in the reimbursement of that debt. That's what this is." "Also it comes into the same provision of third party collection because I don't believe the state government is capable within their current mission statements of being a collection agency of this type. There are plenty of third party companies more than willing to step forward and take care of this process." "With that I would like the committee to at least consider this as what it is very clearly - a revenue-generating piece of legislation for those who owe a debt to society." Senator Adams objected to the amendment. The original bill affected felons, but this amendment adds misdemeanants. He felt this went beyond the bill. He asked the committee how many of us had gone to a state park and perhaps stayed over our time limit and perhaps got a citation. He pointed out that would perhaps be a misdemeanor. He gave another example of getting off a plane and illegally parking at the Juneau Airport, which would also be a misdemeanor. He stressed the need to look at adding the misdemeanor. He noted other misdemeanors such as subsistence violations, drinking alcohol on an election day or disorderly conduct. He suggested that if the misdemeanor clause was inserted to the bill it either need to be returned to the Judiciary Committee or else this committee would need to site each misdemeanor that would be affected. Senator Pearce shared a list of all the misdemeanor crimes that the sponsor had handed out for committee members. Senator Ward concurred with Senator Adams that possession of child pornography and subsistence fin fishing with unidentifiable gear would be categorized the same under this legislation and both defendants would lose their PFDs. However, he felt the simple fact was that 20,000 misdemeanants cost this state approximately $60 million. He added that if some of the crimes should be taken off the list of misdemeanors, he hoped that some of the people convicted of those crimes would lobby the Legislature to have them removed. Meanwhile, he felt that somebody still had to pay the associated costs and he didn't want to pay for them. The citizens he represented no longer wanted to pay for them either, he stated. He continued speaking to the potential need to have some of the misdemeanor offenses taken off the books, referring to the costs involved. Senator Donley tried to understand the pattern. Citing Sections D1 and D2, which talked about convictions of a misdemeanor and incarceration as a result of the convictions, he asked if both would have to occur before the offenders would lose their dividend or would the mere conviction be sufficient to cause the loss of the PFD. Senator Ward stated the conviction was the method by which the dividend would be fore-fitted. Senator Donley asked for further clarifications on the meaning of the two sections. He continued, asking about AS 11.81.900 that was referenced in Line 18. Mr. Johnson explained that under the current law, if a person were convicted of three misdemeanors he would lose his permanent fund. The proposed amendment would in part repeal that portion of the language, because the PFD would be denied after the first conviction. Senator Donley then pointed out that the PFD would be taken away in the same manner as for a felony conviction, for the first year. This was not permanent, according to Senator Ward, unless they commit another crime and are convicted. Senator Donley asked how Amendment #2 related to the on- going fee provision. Would this replace the version in the bill or would it be an addition, he wanted to know. Mr. Johnson said it would be a separate section and would be in addition to the existing fee structure. The bill was a vehicle to get PFDs from misdemeanants. It did not relate to probation and parole, he said. Senator Donley expressed that he agreed with the system placed forth in the amendment because it was clean, it didn't have administrative cost problems and the state wouldn't have to defend these people. It would just say they were not eligible without needing to provide public defenders. He liked Amendment #2 and suggested expanding on it to clean up some of the other provisions in the bill. Senator Ward responded to those comments. He felt the people on probation and parole needed to understand their responsibility in paying for what they had done. He thought those people should pay for their costs of probation and parole. He believed that helped them. He told the committee that was his beginning thrust of adding responsibilities. He referred to boot camps and getting up in the morning. He stated that responsibility was a good thing, which was how this legislation started out. Senator Donley said he agreed with the philosophy, but he thought the process had not gone far enough with regard to felony convictions. When a person was convicted of a felony, they only lose their dividend for one year under existing law. He said he would be interested in extending beyond that. He wanted to deny PFD for a misdemeanor conviction and to extend the time for a felony conviction. Senator Ward noted that a large percentage of people who had been convicted of a felony have gone on probation, those were the people he was targeted. He talked about efforts of putting people behind bars and that it didn't work to rehabilitate offenders. He spoke about reentering the community and repaying and accepting responsibility. Senator Donley asked if the state could pre-garnish the PFD for felons who were on probation. He noted a provision in the legislation allowing for an individual who claimed they were unable to make the payments. He wanted to know how that would relate to the garnishment of the dividends. He felt that obviously the money was available by the issuance of the PFDs, but would some individuals get the dividend, blow the money on something else and when it came time to pay this debt, claim they couldn't make the payment. He wondered if there was a way for the state to collect the money first and avoid the whole problem. Senator Ward defended the fore-mentioned provision, stating it was inserted to avoid becoming a debtor jail. He stressed that if someone was truly unable to pay this, he did not want to see that person put back into jail. Senator Donley responded that he understood the provision, but wondered if there was a way to avoid getting into the position of granting the dividend, the defendant spending the funds on something else, then saying they couldn't pay the probation fee. Senator Ward assured him that this legislation would prevent the PFD from being issued to the probation/parolee. He said that with electronic transfer, the money would never get into their hands. Senator Donley clarified that there was an anticipatory garnishment that would occur. Senator Ward explained that once the individual was in the system, there would be a procedure that would direct the funds to the state. He further spoke to the costs charged the probation/parolee. He wanted those people to clearly know they were repaying their debt to society. Senator Donley said he would like to work with the sponsor and his staff with changing this legislation. There was discussion as to where the committee was with regard to the amendment. It was determined Amendment #2 had been moved and they were in discussion on that amendment. Senator Ward brought back to the attention of the members his request to the commissioner to identify the actual costs incurred by felons and misdemeanants. He admitted that his figure of $60 million was a guess. He felt that if the departments were to report back actual figures, there would be a better understanding of what the citizens were paying for. Co-Chair Sharp said he had questions he was holding until they came to discussion on the bill. Senator Adams asked Senator Ward if this amendment had been offered in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Ward replied that no, he didn't come up with the amendment until after the bill had moved from that committee. He expounded further on his reasons for adding misdemeanors to the legislation. He said the matter was brought up with phone calls to his office. Another reason was the crime of possession of child pornography. Co-Chair Sharp interrupted announcing that he would like to hear from the Department of Corrections, otherwise he would put the bill aside for a future meeting. First he intended to complete action on the amendment before the body. Senator Adams continued to speak against Amendment #2. He read some other misdemeanor offenses that he felt were unworthy of forfeiture of a PFD. Senator Ward countered; arguing that constituents guilty of those offenses could lobby to have them removed from the list of misdemeanors. Senator Pearce observed that Senator Donley had an interest, not only in Amendment #2 but also with some further changes. In the interest of time, she offered to remove her motion to adopt Amendment #2 so he could get with the sponsor and the department to incorporate those changes. Senator Donley stated that he liked Amendment #2 and did not object to it. Senator Pearce stressed it was clear the committee would not get through the legislation in the time allotted for this meeting. She deferred to the co-chairs call of how he wished to proceed on the motion. Co-Chair Sharp called for a vote on Amendment #2. It failed by a three to three vote with Senators Donley, Phillips and Sharp voting in favor. Senator Parnell was absent during the roll call. Co-Chair Sharp voiced a concern with the high figures included in the fiscal notes. He regretted the committee did not have a chance to hear from the DOC on this legislation. He ordered the bill held in committee.