Legislature(2019 - 2020)DAVIS 106

03/18/2020 07:45 PM House RULES

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Audio Topic
07:48:44 PM Start
07:49:19 PM HB308
08:15:25 PM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Moved HB 308 Out of Committee
                    ALASKA STATE LEGISLATURE                                                                                  
                 HOUSE RULES STANDING COMMITTEE                                                                               
                         March 18, 2020                                                                                         
                           7:48 p.m.                                                                                            
MEMBERS PRESENT                                                                                                               
Representative Chuck Kopp, Chair                                                                                                
Representative Jennifer Johnston, Vice Chair                                                                                    
Representative Bryce Edgmon                                                                                                     
Representative Louise Stutes                                                                                                    
Representative Steve Thompson                                                                                                   
Representative Lance Pruitt                                                                                                     
Representative DeLena Johnson                                                                                                   
MEMBERS ABSENT                                                                                                                
All members present                                                                                                             
COMMITTEE CALENDAR                                                                                                            
HOUSE BILL NO. 308                                                                                                              
"An  Act relating  to unemployment  benefits during  a period  of                                                               
state or  national emergency resulting  from a  novel coronavirus                                                               
disease  (COVID-19)  outbreak;  and providing  for  an  effective                                                               
BILL: HB 308                                                                                                                  
SHORT TITLE: UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS FOR COVID-19                                                                                 
SPONSOR(s): LABOR & COMMERCE                                                                                                    
     - MOVED HB 308 OUT OF COMMITTEE                                                                                            
PREVIOUS COMMITTEE ACTION                                                                                                     
BILL: HB 308                                                                                                                  
SHORT TITLE: HB 308-UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS FOR COVID-19                                                                          
SPONSOR(s): HOUSE LABOR & COMMERCE                                                                                              
03/18/20       (H)       READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRALS                                                                        
03/18/20       (H)       RLS                                                                                                    
03/18/20       (H)       RLS WAIVD PUBLIC HEARING NOTICE, RULE                                                                  
                         23 - UC                                                                                                
03/18/20       (H)       RLS AT 07:45 PM DAVIS 106                                                                              
WITNESS REGISTER                                                                                                              
REPRESENTATIVE IVY SPOHNHOLZ                                                                                                    
Alaska State Legislature                                                                                                        
Juneau, Alaska                                                                                                                  
POSITION  STATEMENT:   Presented HB  308 on  behalf of  the House                                                             
Labor and Commerce Standing Committee, sponsor.                                                                                 
PATSY WESCOTT, Director                                                                                                         
Division of Employment and Training Services                                                                                    
Department of Labor & Workforce Development (DLWD)                                                                              
Juneau, Alaska                                                                                                                  
POSITION STATEMENT:  Answered questions  during the hearing on HB
LENNON WELLER, Actuary                                                                                                          
Research and Analysis                                                                                                           
Department of Labor & Workforce Development (DLWD)                                                                              
Juneau, Alaska                                                                                                                  
POSITION STATEMENT:  Answered questions  during the hearing on HB
TRISTAN WALSH, Staff                                                                                                            
Representative Ivy Spohnholz                                                                                                    
Alaska State Legislature                                                                                                        
Juneau, Alaska                                                                                                                  
POSITION STATEMENT:  Answered questions  during the hearing on HB
DAN WAYNE, Attorney                                                                                                             
Legislative Legal Services                                                                                                      
Legislative Affairs Agency                                                                                                      
Juneau, Alaska                                                                                                                  
POSITION STATEMENT:  Answered questions  during the hearing on HB
ACTION NARRATIVE                                                                                                              
7:48:44 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  CHUCK  KOPP  called the  House  Rules  Standing  Committee                                                             
meeting to order at 7:48  p.m.  Representatives Edgmon, Johnston,                                                               
Thompson,  and   Kopp  were  present   at  the  call   to  order.                                                               
Representatives  Stutes,  Johnson,  and  Pruitt  arrived  as  the                                                               
meeting was in progress.                                                                                                        
           HB 308-UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS FOR COVID-19                                                                        
7:49:19 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  KOPP announced  that the  only order  of business                                                               
would be  HOUSE BILL  NO. 308, "An  Act relating  to unemployment                                                               
benefits  during   a  period  of  state   or  national  emergency                                                               
resulting from  a novel coronavirus disease  (COVID-19) outbreak;                                                               
and providing for an effective date."                                                                                           
7:50:07 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE   IVY   SPOHNHOLZ,   Alaska   State   Legislature,                                                               
presented  HB 308  on  behalf  of the  House  Labor and  Commerce                                                               
Standing Committee, sponsor.   She stated that  COVID-19 [a novel                                                               
coronavirus  disease] is  both a  public health  and an  economic                                                               
emergency for Alaskans;  in just a few short weeks  it has spread                                                               
to many  countries and to Alaska  - with nine confirmed  cases in                                                               
Alaska at  this point in time.   She relayed the  many impacts to                                                               
Alaska - the closure of  schools, restaurants, childcare centers,                                                               
and malls  - and emphasized  that there  is a myriad  of economic                                                               
impacts of following the public  health recommendation of "social                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE SPOHNHOLZ paraphrased  from the sponsor statement,                                                               
included  in   the  committee  packet,  which   read  as  follows                                                               
[original punctuation provided]:                                                                                                
     This legislation  ensures Alaska employees  can receive                                                                    
     Unemployment  Insurance  whether they  are  furloughed,                                                                    
     laid off, lose  work hours, or are forced  to stay home                                                                    
     to  care  for children  as  a  result of  the  COVID-19                                                                    
     outbreak. It  is imperative we  cut red tape  to ensure                                                                    
     Alaskans  who   have  been  paying   into  Unemployment                                                                    
     Insurance can receive benefits  they have earned during                                                                    
     this time  of unprecedented economic and  public health                                                                    
     The traditional  Unemployment Insurance system  was not                                                                    
     designed  for   a  global  pandemic  that   shuts  down                                                                    
     schools,  businesses,   and  childcare  simultaneously.                                                                    
     This legislation  provides emergency relief  during the                                                                    
     COVID  crisis  so  that  workers  facing  an  array  of                                                                    
     economic challengeswhether  it's a  layoff or lost work                                                                    
     hourscan  recoup some lost  wages and avoid compounding                                                                    
     impacts of income loss.                                                                                                    
     This legislation:                                                                                                          
     1) waives the standard one week waiting requirement to                                                                     
     begin receiving Unemployment Insurance benefits.                                                                           
     2) Increases the weekly per-dependent benefit from $25                                                                     
      to $75, providing some relief for families who have                                                                       
     lost childcare and income simultaneously.                                                                                  
        Many families and small businesses face economic                                                                        
      devastation as a result of a collapsing economy, and                                                                      
     relief cannot wait.                                                                                                        
       This legislation is designed to provide emergency                                                                        
     relief for up to one year.                                                                                                 
REPRESENTATIVE  SPOHNHOLZ  concluded  that  moving  the  proposed                                                               
legislation is urgent; other states  have seen dramatic increases                                                               
in unemployment insurance  (UI) claims.  She  maintained that the                                                               
intent of  HB 308 is to  ensure that Alaskans are  not personally                                                               
harmed by following the public health recommendations.                                                                          
REPRESENTATIVE  SPOHNHOLZ  clarified  that HB  308  offers  three                                                               
provisions:    1)  the  one week  waiting  requirement  would  be                                                               
waived; 2)  the requirement that  the recipient be looking  for a                                                               
job  would be  waived; and  3) the  weekly per-dependent  benefit                                                               
would be increased from $24 to $75.                                                                                             
7:54:09 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSTON  asked whether the Department  of Labor &                                                               
Workforce Development  has the capacity to  process the increased                                                               
numbers of applicants and what it  would need to be as responsive                                                               
as possible to the increased workload.                                                                                          
7:55:01 PM                                                                                                                    
PATSY  WESCOTT, Director,  Division  of  Employment and  Training                                                               
Services,  Department of  Labor &  Workforce Development  (DLWD),                                                               
answered yes, the  department is working to  realign resources by                                                               
using staff from  other units to address the influx  of calls and                                                               
claims that  is anticipated as  a result  of COVID-19.   She said                                                               
that  the  division  is  working   to  simplify  the  application                                                               
process.    The  fiscal  note is  indeterminate  due  to  ongoing                                                               
evaluation of  the expected workload  and the effect  on Alaska's                                                               
Unemployment Insurance Trust  Fund.  She added  that the division                                                               
is evaluating  the need for  additional staff and  is authorizing                                                               
overtime hours for current staff.                                                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE  JOHNSTON asked  whether benefits  can be  applied                                                               
for   through  "myAlaska"   [an  authentication   and  electronic                                                               
signature system  for citizens to  interact with State  of Alaska                                                               
MS. WESCOTT responded  yes.  She maintained that  the division is                                                               
encouraging individuals who are  currently unemployed as a result                                                               
of  COVID-19 to  file  through the  myAlaska online  application;                                                               
they may also utilize the UI call centers.                                                                                      
7:57:44 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSTON  asked for comment  on the amount  in the                                                               
trust fund.                                                                                                                     
7:58:18 PM                                                                                                                    
LENNON  WELLER, Actuary,  Research  and  Analysis, Department  of                                                               
Labor  & Workforce  Development  (DLWD), stated  that the  latest                                                               
trust  fund  balance  was  $492   million,  which  is  above  the                                                               
department's target for  solvency.  He maintained  that Alaska is                                                               
well-situated to  handle a  significant increase  in claims.   He                                                               
added  that   until  the  current  situation   occurred,  benefit                                                               
expenses were  in the $8-10  million range monthly; the  fund can                                                               
handle  significantly  greater  costs  in  the  next  few  months                                                               
without resulting in detriment to the fund.                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  JOHNSTON  asked  for  an estimate  for  the  next                                                               
month's expenses.                                                                                                               
MR.  WELLER answered  that a  worst-case scenario  would be  that                                                               
about 70,000  jobs are impacted  immediately by COVID-19  and the                                                               
closure of  businesses; that represents  about $60-80  million in                                                               
benefit costs for next month.                                                                                                   
8:00:18 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  SPOHNHOLZ  confirmed  for  Representative  Edgmon                                                               
that the  intent is  that the proposed  legislation be  in effect                                                               
for the duration of COVID-19 and repealed April 1, 2021.                                                                        
8:00:54 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE PRUITT  asked whether  the increase in  the weekly                                                               
per-dependent benefit  would apply  to anyone  receiving benefits                                                               
or only those affected by COVID-19.                                                                                             
REPRESENTATIVE  SPOHNHOLZ  expressed  her understanding  that  it                                                               
would apply to anyone.                                                                                                          
REPRESENTATIVE PRUITT  asked why  the provision of  the increased                                                               
benefit was applicable to any beneficiary.                                                                                      
REPRESENTATIVE SPOHNHOLZ  responded that the maximum  weekly [UI]                                                               
benefit for an Alaskan is $370  per week; an additional amount is                                                               
given for  dependents - currently $25  per child per week  with a                                                               
cap of  $72 total; that amount  is insufficient to feed  a child.                                                               
She  stated that  the core  benefit package  would not  increase,                                                               
just the amount  paid for children.  She deferred  to Ms. Wescott                                                               
to comment  on the  benefit amount and  how Alaska  compares with                                                               
other states.                                                                                                                   
MS. WESCOTT stated  that legislation cannot be passed  on a state                                                               
level that discriminates against  individuals applying for UI for                                                               
reasons other  than COVID-19; therefore, the  provision regarding                                                               
dependent allowance must apply to  any individual applying for UI                                                               
during the time the legislation is effective.                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE PRUITT asked whether  the department would prepare                                                               
people -  who are receiving UI  benefits for a reason  other than                                                               
COVID  -  for  the  decrease  in  the  benefit  amount  when  the                                                               
provision expires.                                                                                                              
MS.  WESCOTT  answered  absolutely.    She  maintained  that  the                                                               
department would  conduct an aggressive  outreach to  ensure that                                                               
anyone  applying after  the  sunset date  of  the legislation  is                                                               
fully aware that the dependent allowance would change.                                                                          
8:05:37 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  EDGMON commented  that  the proposed  legislation                                                               
speaks  to  the  potential  widespread  nature  of  COVID-19  and                                                               
speculated that different  eligibility criteria for beneficiaries                                                               
would be burdensome to department staff.                                                                                        
REPRESENTATIVE  STUTES   asked  how   the  expiration   date  was                                                               
8:06:52 PM                                                                                                                    
TRISTAN WALSH, Staff, Representative  Ivy Spohnholz, Alaska State                                                               
Legislature,  suggested that  the expiration  date may  have been                                                               
selected based on provisions of an emergency declaration.                                                                       
8:07:10 PM                                                                                                                    
DAN  WAYNE,  Attorney,  Legislative Legal  Services,  Legislative                                                               
Affairs Agency, stated  that the expiration date  was chosen with                                                               
the  expectation that  the COVID-19  emergency  would end  before                                                               
[April 1,  2021].  He added  that the sunset date  would give the                                                               
legislature time to either extend  the protections beyond April 1                                                               
or to  end them sooner.   He maintained that it  was difficult to                                                               
choose  a date  and the  intent was  to give  the legislature  an                                                               
opportunity to extend the date if necessary.                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE SPOHNHOLZ  relayed that  there are  many unknowns;                                                               
the  date  was  a  compromise between  a  dramatic  expansion  of                                                               
benefits and ensuring Alaskans would  not be harmed.  She offered                                                               
that  the date  was  an attempt  to "play  it  safe" to  minimize                                                               
financial harm to individuals.                                                                                                  
8:09:47 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE SPOHNHOLZ relayed  that viruses sometimes rebound,                                                               
therefore, didn't  want to put  too short  a timeline on  HB 308,                                                               
while  still hoping  for the  COVID-19  outbreak to  end in  four                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE STUTES asked whether  legislation would need to be                                                               
introduced to revert the statutes,  if the COVID-19 outbreak ends                                                               
before April 1,2021.                                                                                                            
REPRESENTATIVE SPOHNHOLZ  explained that the  beneficiaries would                                                               
be  required to  provide  documentation  periodically that  their                                                               
unemployment or underemployment is related to COVID-19.                                                                         
MS.  WESCOTT stated  that the  division has  methods in  place to                                                               
check  in with  the UI  claimants,  work with  them to  establish                                                               
reemployment plans,  and establish  work search  requirements, to                                                               
get  them  back  into  the  workforce  as  the  immediate  crisis                                                               
subsides.     She   said  that   the  [Governor   Mike  Dunleavy]                                                               
administration is supportive  of HB 308 and wants  to ensure that                                                               
with all  the closures, unemployed workers  have immediate access                                                               
to benefits.   She  maintained that  part of  the mission  of the                                                               
division is  to work with  unemployed individuals to  return them                                                               
to work - if not the same job,  then into a new job with the help                                                               
of a reemployment plan and work search activities.                                                                              
8:13:43 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE KOPP opened public testimony on HB 308.  After                                                                   
ascertaining that there was no one who wished to testify, he                                                                    
closed public testimony.                                                                                                        
8:14:56 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSTON moved  to report HB 308  out of committee                                                               
with  individual  recommendations  and  the  accompanying  fiscal                                                               
note.   There being no  objection, HB  308 was reported  from the                                                               
House Rules Standing Committee.                                                                                                 
8:15:25 PM                                                                                                                    
There being no further business before the committee, the House                                                                 
Rules Standing Committee meeting was adjourned at 8:15 p.m.                                                                     

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
HB 308 UI General Information Brochure 03.18.2020.pdf HRLS 3/18/2020 7:45:00 PM
HB 308
HB 308 UI Emergency Bill Sectional Analysis.pdf HRLS 3/18/2020 7:45:00 PM
HB 308
HB 308 UI Emergency Bill Sponsor statement.pdf HRLS 3/18/2020 7:45:00 PM
HB 308