Legislature(2001 - 2002)

05/01/2002 09:49 AM FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
                                                                                                                                
     SENATE BILL NO. 54                                                                                                         
     "An Act establishing the Alaska Veterans Advisory Council; and                                                             
     providing for an effective date."                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
This  was the first  hearing  for this  bill in  the Senate  Finance                                                            
Committee.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
LADDIE  SHAW,   Special  Assistant,   Office  of  Veteran   Affairs,                                                            
Department  of Military and  Veterans Affairs,  testified this  bill                                                            
establishes  in statute, the Alaska  Veterans' Advisory Council.  He                                                            
noted this organization  was created under Administrative Order #164                                                            
in 1996.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
Mr.  Shaw explained  this  organization  assists the  Department  in                                                            
identifying  the needs  and concerns  of  veterans in  the State  of                                                            
Alaska,  their dependants  and  survivors,  as well  as identifying                                                             
methods to  better address  those needs.  He detailed the  Council's                                                            
duties  including   making  recommendations   concerning   veterans'                                                            
priority service, needs,  developing public and private partnerships                                                            
to  meet those  needs  and providing  coordination  and information                                                             
regarding veterans' benefits and services in the State.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
Mr. Shaw stated  that the Council  consists of 20 members  appointed                                                            
by the governor.  He listed that one or more members  are affiliated                                                            
with  a veterans'  organization;  one or  more members  represent  a                                                            
State agency  that manages programs  affecting veterans;  and one or                                                            
more  members  of  the  general  public  "familiar   with  veterans'                                                            
issues".   He emphasized  that  members serve  without compensation                                                             
beyond per diem and travel expenses.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
PAT  CAROTHERS,   Chair,  Alaska  Veterans  Advisory   Council,  and                                                            
Lieutenant Colonel,  US Marine Corps, Retired, testified  in support                                                            
of establishing  the Council in statue.  He cautioned that  a future                                                            
governor could  "abolish" this Council  and that the efforts  of the                                                            
past seven years undertaken  on behalf of Alaska's veterans would be                                                            
"just  about  down  the tube"  with  the  exception  of legislation                                                             
already adopted.                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Lt. Col.  Carothers  remarked the  Council operates  on a  statewide                                                            
basis  and he described  the process  whereby  "problems within  the                                                            
veterans'  community" are  brought  before service  officers of  the                                                            
veterans'  organizations  and handled  on  an individual  basis.  He                                                            
noted the Council  has representation  in each veteran organization                                                             
and  that  each  veteran  organization  has  representation  on  the                                                            
Council. Therefore,  he informed that  many issues are presented  to                                                            
the Council,  and if it  is determined that  a problem affects  more                                                            
than the individual, the  Council addresses the matter. He explained                                                            
the  Council makes  recommendations  and pointed  out  that most  of                                                            
these  recommendations  have  been implemented  by  the appropriate                                                             
State  agencies.  He  characterized  this  process  as  the  Council                                                            
serving as "the eyes and  ears of the Administration" as well as the                                                            
Legislature.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Lt. Col. Carothers  asserted the $3,500 cost of this  legislation is                                                            
minimal.  He  informed   that  the  Council  holds  three   meetings                                                            
annually: one each in Anchorage  and Juneau, plus one teleconference                                                            
meeting.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
Lt.  Col.  Carothers  stressed   the  importance  of  an  entity  to                                                            
coordinate veteran service  organizations to receive suggestions for                                                            
improvement.  He remarked,  "A healthy veteran  community is  a good                                                            
asset for any legislator to have in his constituency."                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
Lt. Col. Carothers  stressed that  the members of the Council  would                                                            
be  "very very  disappointed"  if this  bill  did not  pass and  the                                                            
Council  were eliminated.  He  stated  the Council  is bi-partisan,                                                             
assuring that  he is "not in the Administration's  club" and that he                                                            
serves the veterans of Alaska, as do the other Council members.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
Senator  Wilken  was  concerned  with the  assertion  that  the  new                                                            
governor  would choose to  eliminate the Council  as it has  been in                                                            
place  since 1996.  He asked  why the  witness surmised  this  would                                                            
occur.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
Lt.  Col.  Carothers   informed  that  Governor  Wally   Hickel  had                                                            
abolished the Council when he took office.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Senator  Wilken commented  that a 20-member  Council appears  large,                                                            
although he did not object  if the Council is able to operate with a                                                            
budget of  $3,500. He commented  that the  Council could reduce  its                                                            
membership  to  ten seats  and  hold more  efficient  meetings  more                                                            
frequently.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair  Kelly  suggested  that the  governor  should  appoint  ten                                                            
members with the remaining ten appointed by the legislature.                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Senator Olson commended  Lt. Col. Carothers and other members of the                                                            
Council  for their  involvement.  He wanted  to know  the number  of                                                            
veterans in Alaska.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Lt. Col. Carothers  replied that 68,000  veterans reside  in Alaska,                                                            
which is more per capita than in any other state.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
Senator  Olson asked the  geographical distribution  of veterans  in                                                            
the State.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Mr. Shaw answered  that approximately 43 percent of  the veterans in                                                            
Alaska  reside  in  Anchorage  and the  Mat-Su  Valley;  the  second                                                            
largest concentration  is in Fairbanks, with the remaining  25 to 27                                                            
percent living elsewhere in the State.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
Senator  Olson commented,  "It  sounds  like a  very  good bill  Mr.                                                            
Chairman."                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair Kelly  asked if the witnesses would object  to amending the                                                            
legislation  to provide that five  Council members are appointed  by                                                            
the President  of the Senate, five  by the Speaker of the  House and                                                            
ten by the governor.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
Amendment #1:  This conceptual amendment  provides that appointment                                                             
of the  20 Council  members  shall be  determined  by the  following                                                            
entities: governor, ten  seats; Senate leadership, five seats; House                                                            
of  Representatives  leadership,  five seats.  This  amendment  also                                                            
provides this  change takes effect  as the Council members'  current                                                            
terms expire.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
Senator Leman moved for adoption.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
Senator Ward clarified this would not impact current Council                                                                    
memberships.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
The amendment was ADOPTED without objection.                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Senator Hoffman  asked the  percentage of  rural members serving  on                                                            
the Council.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Mr.  Carothers  responded   that  approximately  one-third   of  the                                                            
membership reside in Bethel, and other small communities.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair  Kelly  thanked the  witnesses  and  those members  of  the                                                            
public for their service in combat.                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Senator Hoffman  asked how the appointment of the  Council positions                                                            
would be rotated.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair  Kelly suggested  the next  vacancy could  be filled  by an                                                            
appointee of the governor,  the second vacancy by the Senate and the                                                            
third  vacancy by  the House of  Representatives,  with the  process                                                            
repeating in this manner for subsequent vacancies.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
Senator Leman agreed to this process.                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
Mr.  Shaw stated  this  method  is  possible.  He pointed  out  that                                                            
currently  appointments  are made  based on the  recommendations  of                                                            
local  veterans   organizations.  He  assumed  this   process  could                                                            
continue regardless of the appointing authority.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair Kelly  surmised that the  rotation of appointing  authority                                                            
would  assure  fair  consideration  of  the veteran  organizations'                                                             
recommendations.                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair  Kelly suggested  the  amendment  should be  conceptual  to                                                            
allow  the drafter  to conform  the language  to the  intent of  the                                                            
Committee.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Amendment  #2: This  conceptual amendment  provides  that the  first                                                            
vacant  seat would be  filled by  appointment of  the governor,  the                                                            
second  vacant seat  would be filled  by appointment  of the  Senate                                                            
leadership, the third vacant  seat would be filled by appointment of                                                            
the House of  Representatives leadership,  and subsequent  vacancies                                                            
would be filled in this rotating order.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
Senator Leman  moved for  adoption of this  conceptual amendment  to                                                            
accommodate the  Committee's intent to provide fair  distribution of                                                            
Council membership.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
There was no objection and the amendment was ADOPTED.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
Senator  Ward  offered  a motion  to  "move Senate  Bill  number  54                                                            
amended  out of Committee  with individual  recommendations  and the                                                            
accompanying note."                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Without objection,  CS SB 54 (FIN)  with accompanying $3,500  fiscal                                                            
note #2 from the  Department of Military and Veterans  Affairs dated                                                            
2/9/02, MOVED from Committee.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                

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