Legislature(2009 - 2010)BELTZ 211
02/10/2009 09:00 AM STATE AFFAIRS
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|Confirmation Hearing: Faith Peters – Human Rights Commission|
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 45-VETERANS' CEMETERIES/FUND/LICENSE PLATES CHAIR MENARD announced the consideration of SB 45. SENATOR MEYER moved to adopt the committee substitute (CS) for SB 45, labeled 26-LS0277\S as a working document. Hearing no objection, version S was before the committee. 9:10:10 AM CHARLIE HUGGINS, Senator, Alaska State Legislature, pointed out a photo of Grant Frasier, who served as a Marine in Iraq and was killed in action. His mother, Sharon Long, was present. Senator Huggins also introduced Joe Fields, an airborne trooper who has discussed the issues included in SB 45 with Senator Huggins. SENATOR HUGGINS said there are two national veteran cemeteries in Alaska. The one in Sitka can't be expanded for much more than 10 years. There is one in Fort Richardson that may have unlimited expansion. There are more cremations now, so perhaps both have a longer life. SB 45 deals with a state cemetery whereby the state supplies the land, the federal Veteran's Administration builds it, and the state operates it. The fiscal note is $250,000 annually for operations starting in 2012. It may be a low estimate, he said. 9:12:37 AM SENATOR HUGGINS said that in the budget for the Department of Military & Veterans Affairs (DMVA) there is $750,000 for the cemetery application process to the federal government. SB 45 also allows a fund from veteran license plate sales, and it expands the state's veteran hiring preference to members of the National Guard. He noted that the community of Bethel got a grant to create a local cemetery with a veteran component. But SB 45 will have the federal government build one. "It is the wave of the future." Florida, for example, is building state cemeteries at a rapid rate and can't stay ahead of the mortality rate of veterans. 9:14:41 AM SENATOR KOOKESH asked the difference between a veteran and a prisoner of war (POW). SENATOR HUGGINS said a person can be a prisoner of war without being in the military. In military culture, veterans who are POWs have higher stature. 9:15:46 AM SENATOR KOOKESH asked if the bill defines a POW. SENATOR HUGGINS said he doesn't know. CHAIR MENARD asked if members of the National Guard can be buried in the national cemeteries. SENATOR HUGGINS said, yes, if they are veterans. 9:16:48 AM GENE THERRIAULT, Senator, Alaska State Legislature, said the bill doesn't define a POW, but he expects that it is defined in state regulations and in the U.S. code. In order to construct the cemetery, Section 9 requires the state to adhere to the U.S. codes with regard to who can be interred. Alaska has the highest number of veterans per capita in the nation. Of the 600,000 Alaska residents, 100,000 are veterans, and it is becoming difficult to obtain burial plots. The purpose of SB 45 is to have a veteran's cemetery in the Interior to avoid traveling 350 miles to Fort Richardson. Fairbanks has the second densest population of veterans in the state. It is centrally located and a hub for many villages. It is close to Fort Wainwright, Fort Greely, Clear Air Force Station, and Eielson Air Force Base. 9:18:46 AM SENATOR THERRIAULT estimated that 15,000 veterans will pass away in the next 10 years in Interior Alaska. About 50 percent will seek to be buried in a veteran cemetery, and at least one family member for every two veterans will seek to be buried there as well. That means 1,125 people may be seeking burial in the next 10 years. The demand is growing across the nation. SENATOR THERRIAULT said Section 1 of the CS allows funds from veteran license plates to be deposited yearly by the legislature into the veteran's cemetery fund. That is permissive language, and the legislature would have to make the appropriation each year. Section 2 allows the state to accept gifts to establish and maintain the cemetery. Section 3 creates the Alaska veteran cemetery fund as a subaccount in the general fund. Sections 4 through 8 deal with veteran hiring preference. The DMVA said there was an issue with the current hiring preference language that needed to be clarified. It is not an expansion of the hiring preference, but just a redrafting. Section 9 allows the DMVA to establish a veteran's cemetery according to U.S. code. The CS moved a reference to that code up to the beginning of the section. "We wanted to make it very clear that we are doing this in accordance with federal requirements" and following the federal regulations on where a veteran cemetery can be placed. 9:22:31 AM CHAIR MENARD asked if it relates to the population. SENATOR THERRIAULT said, yes, U.S. code speaks to how close the nearest other cemetery is and what the population is. SENATOR KOOKESH asked if the fund will be available for the two national cemeteries and the Bethel cemetery. 9:23:31 AM MCHUGH PIERRE, Legislative Liaison, Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, said the cemeteries in Sitka and Fort Richardson are national cemeteries with no state obligations. Both allow veterans to fully realize benefits that they have earned. The Bethel cemetery was built for veterans and nonveterans, and it does not meet the federal requirements, so veterans may not receive their full benefits if they are buried there. The Fairbanks cemetery will meet all requirements and will give veterans all of their burial benefits. 9:25:01 AM SENATOR KOOKESH said the bill says cemeteries, not cemetery. MR. PIERRE said there could be more in the future, but Fairbanks is the only area of the state that currently qualifies under federal rules -- and it barely qualifies. Veteran Affairs is almost making an exception for Alaska because the population is so small. But Fairbanks does exceed the 75 miles radius from any other cemetery. Veteran Affairs wants a cemetery within 75 miles of every major veteran's establishment, and Fairbanks meets that qualification, but the population is extremely low. 9:25:51 AM CHAIR MENARD briefly set aside the bill until the end of the committee meeting. SB 45-VETERANS' CEMETERIES/FUND/LICENSE PLATES 9:34:30 AM CHAIR MENARD returned attention to SB 45. SENATOR FRENCH asked why improvements are necessary in the veteran's preference statutes. MCHUGH PIERRE, Department of Military & Veterans Affairs, said it is not an improvement, but a clarification and a regrouping to put veteran hiring language together. There isn't one specific location in the statutes dealing with veteran hiring preferences. It will make it more clear for personnel staff. The Alaska Veterans Advisory Council put forth this idea of consolidating "all of the issues that are on the books ... and what veterans do receive if they apply for state jobs." 9:36:53 AM SENATOR FRENCH noted the lines being taken out on Page 6 of the bill. He asked if the language is reincorporated elsewhere. MR. PIERRE said he can't give those details. NICKI NEAL, Director, Personnel and Labor Relations, Department of Administration, said the way she reads the bill, it is simply clarifying the language. "Everything that's being deleted is just restated in a simpler form - more understandable." 9:38:10 AM PAT LUBY, Advocacy Director, AARP, Anchorage, said that AARP has many veterans. One of the greatest honors given to a veteran is a final resting place in a veteran's cemetery, and families prefer one nearby. SB 45 will offer many veterans and their families that opportunity in the Interior. AARP strongly supports the bill. As a veteran himself, he personally encouraged passage of the bill. 9:39:15 AM JOE FIELDS, Vice Chair, Alaska Veterans Advisory Council, Fairbanks, said he is speaking as a citizen. He is a Vietnam veteran. The cemetery is supported by every veteran that he has met in the past 40 years. "How it weighs against veteran services for living veterans may be a different story." Veterans have been seeking a cemetery in the Interior for a very long time. It has been a struggle to erect memorials there. "It's taken a long time to bring around a generation that generally looked fairly unfavorably on us from Vietnam." This is part of rectifying that, and it brings proper honor to veterans. SENATOR PASKVAN said he's known Mr. Fields for 35 years, and he has worked on veteran issues that entire time. He commended him. 9:40:58 AM SENATOR MEYER moved the committee substitute (CS) for SB 45, labeled 26-LS0277\S from committee with individual recommendations and the attached fiscal note. Hearing no objection, CSSB 45 (STA) moved out of committee.