Legislature(2003 - 2004)
05/01/2004 04:14 PM Senate STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 379-OFFICE OF CITIZENSHIP ASSISTANCE CHAIR GARY STEVENS announced HB 379 to be up for consideration and noted that the committee heard similar legislation during the previous session. TERRY HARVEY, staff to Representative Bruce Weyhrauch, acknowledged that the Chair was correct. The legislation to establish the Office of Citizenship Assistance in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development was originally introduced during the 22nd Legislature. The difference between the two bills is that the fiscal note for the current legislation is reduced to $86,000 annually. Naturalized citizens and those pursuing citizenship could receive assistance in immigration and employment services. The office would be available to help individuals find affordable legal services, medical services, and educational opportunities. Information would also be available on discrimination, sexual harassment, and unsafe working conditions. Generally they've received broad statewide support for this office, he said. The only negative debate has centered on the argument that this is a duplication of services, but they disagree. SENATOR BERT STEDMAN asked why the bill didn't pass the previous session. MR. HARVEY said that in recent years it's been a challenge to create new positions in the state. Also, he said, it's likely that it would have passed last session if a bit more time and effort had been expended. SENATOR STEDMAN asked for a rough estimate of the number of immigrants that arrive in Alaska each year and where they come from. MR. HARVEY said he didn't have that number, but he could find out. They do feel that the office would assist several thousand people every year. People immigrate to Alaska from Mexico, Central and South America, Africa, Europe, the Philippines, and parts of Asia. SENATOR JOHN COWDERY asked where the office would be located. MR. HARVEY replied it would be located in Juneau, but they wouldn't be opposed to locating it in another central part of the state. SENATOR COWDERY opined it might be more properly located in Anchorage then asked whether there are similar federal offices. MR. HARVEY said there are individual offices that deal with the individual paperwork and documentation, but not a central position that serves as a navigational aid. SENATOR COWDERY asked whether anyone in Alaska helps people become citizens. MR. HARVEY informed him that the Catholic Community Services in Juneau and one main organization in Anchorage both do what they can in this area. SENATOR COWDERY remarked that both the Senate and the House have World Trade Committees and his office has fielded calls from immigrants that have experienced trouble with visa applications since 911. MR. HARVEY said that's why this proposed service is most important. The challenges are enormous for those trying to navigate through the system. SENATOR COWDERY suggested that a lot of the issues are federal rather than state and perhaps the Alaska delegation could be encouraged to act. CHAIR GARY STEVENS remarked that the fishing and processing industry in particular is heavily dependent on legal alien workers. Since 1970 he's found it rewarding to watch as immigrants move from introductory positions in the fishing industry to owning their own businesses. SENATOR GRETCHEN GUESS stated for the record that Anchorage has 92 languages represented in the school district, which gave her reason to echo Senator Cowdery's suggestion that Anchorage might be a better location for the office. There's a tremendous need for such assistance, she said, but her constituents wouldn't have access to such an office if it were located in Juneau. She asked whether they had discussed addressing safety issues as well because domestic violence and sexual assault is a big issue in the immigrant community. Women need to understand their rights and the state laws and to know that there is a place they can go if there is a need. MR. HARVEY said those safety issues are an important aspect of the assistance available. SENATOR GUESS said it would be stronger if domestic violence and sexual assault were specifically addressed because our laws are different than a number of other countries. SENATOR COWDERY asked what the qualifications and pay range would be for the job. MR. HARVEY replied Mr. Bell could answer those questions. GUY BELL, Director of the Division of Administrative Services with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DOLWD), explained that the envisioned position is a range 17, employment security analyst. That's a general classification within the employment security division and these employees are generally assigned to job centers. The position would require basic understanding of the job market, wage and hour laws, occupational safety and health issues, citizenship issues, strong communication skills, and probably some bilingual capability. What is a bit unusual is that the position will be assigned to the commissioner's office. SENATOR COWDERY asked if the office would be dealing with citizens or those trying to become citizens. MR. BELL replied it's the people that are working toward citizenship. CHAIR GARY STEVENS noted that an employment security analyst is a range 17 and earns $64,000 a year. He asked whether that includes retirement and health benefits. MR. BELL said it does. ANDREE McLEOD testified via teleconference saying she is an immigrant from Lebanon and she didn't support the bill because it's discriminatory based on national origin. There was no further testimony or questions. SENATOR STEDMAN motioned to report HB 379 from committee with individual recommendations and attached fiscal notes. There being no objection, it was so ordered.