Legislature(2001 - 2002)

04/15/2002 09:29 AM Senate FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
     SENATE BILL NO. 239                                                                                                        
     "An Act relating to state employees who are called to active                                                               
     duty as reserve or auxiliary members of the armed forces of                                                                
     the United States; and providing for an effective date."                                                                   
This  was the first  hearing  for this  bill in  the Senate  Finance                                                            
DAVID STEWART, Personnel  Manager, Division of Personnel, Department                                                            
of Administration, explained  that the State personnel policy allows                                                            
for up to sixteen  days of paid leave to State employees  undergoing                                                            
Army or Air  National Guard or Militia  training; however,  in times                                                            
of emergency,  State law  limits paid leave  to five days for  State                                                            
employees called  to active duty by the Governor.  He continued that                                                            
the balance  of that active  duty time is  considered leave  without                                                            
pay or as arranged with the employing agency.                                                                                   
Mr. Stewart  continued "that  individuals who  are called to  active                                                            
duty by the federal government  are protected by federal legislation                                                            
that provides  for return to employment with essentially  no loss of                                                            
benefits  accrued by  time;" however,  there is  no allowance  for a                                                            
supplementation of wage or continuation of benefits.                                                                            
Mr. Stewart  explained that most State  employees who are  activated                                                            
for more  than five  days for Army  or Air  National Guard  service,                                                            
receive a military wage  that might be "more than or less than their                                                            
State wage." He  commented that this legislation would  allow for an                                                            
administrative  order to be issued by the Governor,  under specified                                                            
circumstances,  to require  the State to pay  the difference  if the                                                            
military wage is less than  the State wage for a specified period of                                                            
time. He noted that this  legislation additionally provides that the                                                            
State  be responsible  for health  care or  retirement contribution                                                             
coverage,  again for  a specified  period of time,  if the  military                                                            
does  not provide  military benefits  or  if the  employee would  be                                                            
activated for an extended period of time.                                                                                       
Mr. Stewart  informed the  Committee that  other states have  passed                                                            
similar  legislation  in  response   to  the  terrorism  attacks  of                                                            
September  11, 2001. He  referenced a Department  of Administration                                                             
handout  titled  "Implementation   of Uniformed   Services  Employee                                                            
Return and  Reemployment Act (USERRA)"  [copy on file] that  details                                                            
the benefits other states  provide. He exampled that Colorado allows                                                            
its governor  to authorize  supplemental military  wages for  ninety                                                            
days and  that the  District of  Columbia specifies  that  employers                                                            
provide health insurance benefits for the first year.                                                                           
Mr. Stewart  disclosed  that the  Department  of Administration  has                                                            
ascertained  that since  September  11, 2001,  41 of  the 189  State                                                            
employees in the  Air or National Guard Reserve have  been called to                                                            
active  duty, and,  of  that number,  eight  would qualify  for  the                                                            
supplemental wage condition.  He noted that depending on whether the                                                            
Governor  or  the  federal   government  activated  the   employee's                                                            
service,  the  employee  might  receive  military  health  insurance                                                            
coverage,  however,  their  dependents  might  not be  eligible.  He                                                            
reminded  the Committee  that  State  employee dependents  could  be                                                            
covered through  COBRA insurance plan provisions;  however, he noted                                                            
that this coverage is expensive.                                                                                                
Senator Ward  asked whether the Governor  or the federal  government                                                            
called to active  duty the eight State  employees who would  qualify                                                            
for the supplemental wage.                                                                                                      
Mr. Stewart  responded that the Governor,  on behalf of the  federal                                                            
government, activated these individuals.                                                                                        
Senator Ward asked the  nature of the duties assigned to these eight                                                            
Mr. Stewart  responded that the duty  information is not  available;                                                            
however,  he noted that one  individual was  activated for  365 days                                                            
and others were  activated in October or December  2001 for a period                                                            
of twelve months.                                                                                                               
Senator Ward asked the  Department to investigate these individuals'                                                            
active  duty  assignments   and  provide  the  information   to  the                                                            
Mr. Stewart  responded that the Department  would attempt  to gather                                                            
this information.                                                                                                               
SFC 02 # 56, Side B 10:19 AM                                                                                                    
DEBRA GERRISH, identifying  herself as the wife of a Warrant Officer                                                            
in the  National Guard,  informed  the Committee  that the  military                                                            
does not  generally disclose  duty assignments.  She clarified  that                                                            
the actual  number of State  employees called  to active service  is                                                            
189,  and she  confirmed  that  of  that number,  eight  would  have                                                            
qualified  for the  supplemental wage,  as their  military wage  was                                                            
less  than their  State wage.  She stated  that most  of the  people                                                            
called to active duty are  serving as airport and pipeline security.                                                            
Ms.  Gerrish shared  with  the Committee  that her  family's  health                                                            
benefits would be negatively  affected in the event that her husband                                                            
were called  to active duty. She explained  that in the military,  a                                                            
call to active  duty for less than 180 days disqualifies  dependents                                                            
from  receiving  benefits,  and  that  the  Army's  benefits  seldom                                                            
provide  coverage for  pre-existing  conditions.  She stressed  that                                                            
this  situation could  result  in families  being  required to  make                                                            
decisions  whether  or  not to  seek  medical  care because  of  the                                                            
expense.  She noted  that, because  her husband  is an officer,  her                                                            
family  would  have  sufficient  income  to  cover  house  payments,                                                            
utilities, and basic living  needs; however, families of privates or                                                            
sergeants  would  not. She  stated  that the  expense  of the  COBRA                                                            
insurance  plan is cost-prohibitive,  and she  asserted that  "if an                                                            
officer's  wife doesn't have  money for COBRA,  the private  and the                                                            
sergeant's  wife is certainly not  going to have the money  to cover                                                            
Senator Wilken  voiced general support for this legislation,  and he                                                            
asked how a person qualifies for the Alaska Naval Militia.                                                                      
Mr. Stewart responded  that the Naval Militia is a  component of the                                                            
Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.                                                                                    
Senator  Wilken  asked how  this  program  compares to  the  federal                                                            
National Guard program.                                                                                                         
Mr. Stewart  responded  that it is  a State program  similar  to the                                                            
National Guard.                                                                                                                 
Senator Wilken  asked that  further information  be provided  to the                                                            
Committee regarding the Naval Militia.                                                                                          
Senator Wilken  stated that  the fiscal note  analysis implies  that                                                            
replacements  would  not be hired  to fill  the  positions of  State                                                            
employees  called to  active duty,  but rather  that the  Department                                                            
would absorb the  workloads. He asked whether this  is the intent of                                                            
the legislation.                                                                                                                
Mr. Stewart  explained  that it  is not  the intent  of the bill  to                                                            
specify that no replacements  be hired, but rather it was the intent                                                            
of the fiscal  note to indicate that,  given the event of  September                                                            
11and  its affect on the State's  National Guard, it is not possible                                                            
to determine the impact or the duration of the activation.                                                                      
Senator Wilken reiterated  his question as whether the intent of the                                                            
legislation  is not  to hire  people  to replace  those individuals                                                             
called to active duty.                                                                                                          
Mr. Stewart replied that it is not.                                                                                             
Senator  Wilken suggested  that  the fiscal  note  be revisited.  He                                                            
further  advised  that  the "trigger  mechanism,"  or  rather,  what                                                            
constitutes an  emergency that would result in the  Governor calling                                                            
people to active duty, should be "clearly defined."                                                                             
Senator   Austerman   asked  if   specific  timeframes   have   been                                                            
established for the components of the bill.                                                                                     
Mr. Stewart responded  that timelines have not been  established for                                                            
the bill. He stated  that the aforementioned report  regarding other                                                            
states' legislation  would be provided to the Committee,  along with                                                            
current  information pertaining  to  the individuals  who have  been                                                            
activated and their wage schedule.                                                                                              
Senator  Austerman asked  Ms. Gerrish if  providing health  benefits                                                            
for the initial  180-days of active  service would be beneficial  to                                                            
those State employees called to active duty.                                                                                    
Ms. Gerrish responded  that this would address the  health insurance                                                            
problem. She  furthered that this  would also benefit the  situation                                                            
where  people are  asked to  volunteer  for such  things as  airport                                                            
security to  fill those positions  as people are rotated  in and out                                                            
of service.                                                                                                                     
Ms. Gerrish urged the Committee to act on this legislation.                                                                     
Senator Wilken  asked for clarification  that the wage supplemental                                                             
component  of this  bill applies  to eight  rather than  all of  the                                                            
State employees called to active service.                                                                                       
Mr. Stewart replied that is correct.                                                                                            
The bill was ordered HELD in Committee.                                                                                         

Document Name Date/Time Subjects