Legislature(2003 - 2004)

05/05/2004 09:04 AM Senate FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
     HOUSE BILL NO. 379                                                                                                         
     "An Act establishing an office of citizenship assistance in                                                                
     the Department of Labor and Workforce Development."                                                                        
This  was the first  hearing  for this  bill in  the Senate  Finance                                                            
Co-Chair  Wilken  stated  this  bill,  sponsored  by Representative                                                             
Weyhrauch, "establishes  the Office of Citizenship Assistance in the                                                            
Department of Labor and Workforce Development."                                                                                 
REPRESENTATIVE BRUCE WEYHRAUCH  explained that Senator Pete Kelly of                                                            
Fairbanks first  introduced this bill  two years ago. The  Office of                                                            
Citizenship Assistance  was originally envisioned  within the Office                                                            
of Legislative  Affairs. Representative Weyhrauch  is overwhelmed by                                                            
the  realization  that a  large  minority  community exists  in  the                                                            
State.  For  example,  ten  percent  of  the  population  of  Juneau                                                            
consists  of  immigrants  from  the  Philippines  and  Tonga.  Often                                                            
immigrants within  the State work multiple jobs. In  order to obtain                                                            
citizenship, immigrants  must fulfill many requirements and "run the                                                            
bureaucratic maze".  These individuals may have come  from a country                                                            
where  they  were  threatened  by their  government,  and  they  are                                                            
unfamiliar  with  the U.S.  government.  The Office  of Citizenship                                                             
Assistance  would benefit  both the  public and  private sectors  in                                                            
aiding immigrants  with the paperwork  and processes required  to be                                                            
productive, and eventually naturalized, U.S. citizens.                                                                          
ANDREE MCLEOD  testified via teleconference from Anchorage  that she                                                            
does not support  this bill. She prefaced by stating  that she is an                                                            
immigrant  who was brought  to the  U.S. by a  sponsor. Part  of the                                                            
responsibilities  of a sponsor who registers with  the Department of                                                            
Immigration   and  Naturalization   Services  is  to  "bridge"   the                                                            
transition  for the  immigrants  they have  chosen  to sponsor.  She                                                            
questioned  whether  it  is  appropriate  to  make  immigrants  into                                                            
victims when they  have exhibited a strong sense of  responsibility,                                                            
and initiative  in leaving their native  country. Being an  American                                                            
involves interface  with the government,  and frustration  with that                                                            
interaction.  In 1999 Ms  Mcleod participated  in the Commission  on                                                            
Privitization  and Delivery of Government Services.  One goal of the                                                            
Commission   was  to   determine   what  services   are   inherently                                                            
governmental.  Certain non-profit organizations provide  immigration                                                            
services that  do not need to be duplicated by the  government. This                                                            
legislation  addresses a federal problem,  not a State problem.  The                                                            
responsibility   an  immigration   sponsor   has  committed   to  is                                                            
undermined  by this bill. This legislation  is discriminatory  based                                                            
on  national origin.  She  questioned  the  funding source  for  the                                                            
Office  proposed in  this bill. A  few years  ago approximately  75-                                                            
percent of Alaskans  voted to make English the official  language of                                                            
State  government;   therefore  interpreting  services   offered  to                                                            
immigrants  should   be  eliminated.  Immigrants   must  be  offered                                                            
incentives to encourage  them to create a better quality of life for                                                            
themselves; they should not be made into victims.                                                                               
MARIO LIM,  private citizen, testified  in Juneau and informed  that                                                            
he has  assisted immigrants,  and the previous  testifier might  not                                                            
understand  the  magnitude  of the  citizenship  process.  He has  a                                                            
Masters  degree  in  chemical  engineering,   and  still  could  not                                                            
understand  the  paperwork  process.  The reaction  of  the  federal                                                            
government  regarding  immigration   assistance  is  appalling.  All                                                            
immigrants  face this daunting  bureaucratic  process. He shared  an                                                            
example of a Mexican  immigrant who had been attempting  to complete                                                            
the paperwork  required for  citizenship for  nearly two years.  Mr.                                                            
Lim has been assisting  immigrants for many years  at no charge. The                                                            
federal government is overburdened  with immigration issues, but the                                                            
State  has the  ability  to help  immigrants.  After  the events  of                                                            
September  11,  2001,   immigration  issues  have  magnified.   This                                                            
legislation would  be making history by assisting  immigrants of the                                                            
State of  Alaska in becoming  established in  the U.S. He urged  the                                                            
Committee to support this legislation.                                                                                          
Senator Bunde  asked the number of people the Office  of Citizenship                                                            
Assistance would serve.                                                                                                         
Representative  Weyhrauch responded  that the  Office would  serve a                                                            
substantial  number  of immigrants.  He  predicted  that the  Office                                                            
would grow over time as  the minority community became familiar with                                                            
the services it would provide.                                                                                                  
Senator Bunde  asked if the services the Office would  provide would                                                            
be available to immigrants throughout the State.                                                                                
Representative  Weyhrauch replied  that, yes, the services  would be                                                            
available   statewide  in   communities  including   Dutch   Harbor,                                                            
Unalaska,  Anchorage, and  Kodiak, particularly  in locations  where                                                            
there  is   considerable  seasonal   employment  which  attracts   a                                                            
substantial number  of temporary employees. The Southcentral  region                                                            
of the State would be an  area of focus due to its large population.                                                            
Interpreting   services  are  found  statewide,   and  can  be  used                                                            
telephonically when not available in a particular community.                                                                    
Senator  Olson inquired  as  to why  an immigrant,  referencing  Ms.                                                            
Mcleod, would be opposed to this legislation.                                                                                   
Representative  Weyhrauch  responded that  Ms. Mcleod  was the  only                                                            
individual that had testified against this bill.                                                                                
Senator  Bunde questioned  the amount  of the fiscal  note, and  the                                                            
request for an additional full-time position.                                                                                   
GUY BELL, Director, Division  of Administrative Services, Department                                                            
of   Labor  and   Workforce   Development,   testified   that   this                                                            
legislation, when originally  proposed by Senator Kelly, contained a                                                            
fiscal  note in  excess  of $300,000  to provide  for  an Office  in                                                            
Juneau and  Anchorage with three staff  members. The current  fiscal                                                            
note reflects  the minimum  level of funding  required to  implement                                                            
this legislation. The Department  of Labor and Workforce Development                                                            
is largely  federally  funded;  however, the  federal  grant is  not                                                            
sufficient  to fund the proposed Office  of Citizenship Assistance,                                                             
thus  requiring   funding  from  the   State's  general   fund.  The                                                            
Department has  attempted to minimize the costs associated  with the                                                            
Office of Citizenship  Assistance, which would be  within the Office                                                            
of the Commissioner,  to include some  travel expenses, a  toll free                                                            
phone line, and the salary of one full-time professional.                                                                       
SFC 04 # 108, Side A 10:41 AM                                                                                                   
Senator  Bunde asked  if  the staff  position  would  be located  in                                                            
Mr. Bell affirmed.                                                                                                              
Senator Bunde expressed  that legislators are expected to help their                                                            
constituents.  He added that it would  be helpful to have  a central                                                            
location from which to get information on immigration issues.                                                                   
Co-Chair Green  offered a motion to  report the bill from  Committee                                                            
with individual recommendations and accompanying fiscal note.                                                                   
Without objection  HB 379 MOVED from  Committee with fiscal  note #2                                                            
for $92,300 from the Department  of Labor and Workforce Development.                                                            

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