Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/14/2004 06:01 PM FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
                              MINUTES                                                                                         
                     SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE                                                                                 
                          April 14, 2004                                                                                      
                              6:01 PM                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
TAPES                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
SFC-04 # 81, Side A                                                                                                             
SFC 04 # 81, Side B                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                              
CALL TO ORDER                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair Lyda Green convened the meeting at approximately 6:01 PM.                                                              
                                                                                                                                
PRESENT                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
Senator Lyda Green, Co-Chair                                                                                                    
Senator Gary Wilken, Co-Chair                                                                                                   
Senator Con Bunde, Vice-Chair                                                                                                   
Senator Fred Dyson                                                                                                              
Senator Donny Olson                                                                                                             
Senator Ben Stevens                                                                                                             
Senator Lyman Hoffman                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
Also Attending:  Testifiers are listed in the order they testified                                                            
in the body of the minutes.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
SUMMARY INFORMATION                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
HB 375-APPROP: OPERATING BUDGET/LOANS/FUNDS                                                                                     
HB 377-APPROP:MENTAL HEALTH BUDGET                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
The  Committee   heard   public  testimony   from  the  Legislative                                                             
Information  Offices  located in  Petersburg,  Ketchikan.  Wrangell,                                                            
Sitka, Cordova,  Homer, Kodiak and  Kenai, and in person  in Juneau.                                                            
The bills were held in Committee.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
     CS FOR HOUSE BILL NO. 375(FIN) am                                                                                          
     "An  Act  making appropriations   for the  operating  and  loan                                                            
     program  expenses of  state government,  for certain  programs,                                                            
     and to capitalize  funds; and providing for an effective date."                                                            
                                                                                                                                
     And                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
     CS FOR HOUSE BILL NO. 377(FIN)                                                                                             
     "An Act making appropriations for the operating and capital                                                                
     expenses of the state's integrated comprehensive mental health                                                             
     program; and providing for an effective date."                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
This was the  fourth hearing for these  bills in the Senate  Finance                                                            
Committee.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
JEAN  MACK,  representing  the City  of  Petersburg,  testified  via                                                            
teleconference  from Petersburg in  opposition of using a  statewide                                                            
sales tax or  a tourism tax to balance  the State budget.  She spoke                                                            
of the reliance of the  City on its local sales tax and bed tax. She                                                            
stated that  if the Legislature  decided to  not remit an extra  one                                                            
percent of the  collected sales tax under the proposed  legislation,                                                            
SB  366,  the municipalities   would be  in  a  difficult  financial                                                            
situation. She preferred a statewide income tax.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
DIANE   IVY-DAHLIN,   Coordinator,   Youth  Court,   testified   via                                                            
teleconference  from  Wrangell  to urge  the Committee  support  the                                                            
program statewide.  She detailed  the benefits  of the inception  of                                                            
this program in  Wrangell, including reduced offenses  by juveniles.                                                            
She  remarked  that  the  cost  of  incarceration  of  juveniles  is                                                            
significantly  higher  than  the cost  to  operate the  youth  court                                                            
program.  She requested  the  Senate fund  the program  in the  same                                                            
amount approved by the House of Representatives.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
VALERY   MCCANDLESS,  Mayor,   City  of   Wrangell,  testified   via                                                            
teleconference  from Wrangell about the "tremendous  difference" the                                                            
youth court  has made  in that  community. She  stated this  program                                                            
promotes  "restorative  justice".  She also  expressed  interest  in                                                            
education  funding,  funding  for  public   employees  and  teachers                                                            
retirement systems,  proposed changes to the permanent  fund and the                                                            
proposed statewide  sales tax. She stated that the  current level of                                                            
the  local  sales and  property  taxes  is inadequate  to  fund  the                                                            
community's needs, requiring  the use of savings. She also supported                                                            
funding  for harbors.  She recommended  consideration  of an  income                                                            
tax.                                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
ALEJANDRO CHAVARRIA,  16 year old, representing the  Ketchikan Youth                                                            
Court,  testified  via  teleconference   from  Ketchikan  about  the                                                            
program, which  allows defendants representation by  an attorney and                                                            
to be  judged by their  peers. He  stated the  youth court costs  50                                                            
percent less  to operate than the  traditional court system,  lowers                                                            
the burden on the district  court, and has a low recidivism rate for                                                            
those appearing in the court.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
GRETCHEN KLEIN,  Coordinator, Ketchikan  Youth Court, testified  via                                                            
teleconference  from  Ketchikan that  the  youth court  has been  in                                                            
operation  in Ketchikan for  almost five  years. She reiterated  the                                                            
information  provided by  Mr. Chavarria,  including  the 80  percent                                                            
success rate  and positive impact  on participants. She stated  that                                                            
with declining  funding from the State, participants  have relied on                                                            
increasing  fundraising activities.  However,  she pointed out  that                                                            
because participants spend  so much time in fund raising activities,                                                            
they are not available for the desired level of training.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
PAT  MUZZANA,   Paralegal,   Alaska  Legal   Services  Corporation,                                                             
testified  via teleconference   from Ketchikan  that  the office  in                                                            
Ketchikan  only  operates  part  time,  but  handles  a significant                                                             
workload  during its hours  of operation.  She told  of the  loss of                                                            
many jobs in the community  and subsequent demand for these services                                                            
by low-income  and  elderly  residents. She  asked  that the  Senate                                                            
match the actions of the House of Representatives.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
BECKY BOLLING,  President, Alaska Nurses Association,  testified via                                                            
teleconference  from Ketchikan to  request the Committee  fully fund                                                            
the  public health  nursing  program.  She  did not  understand  the                                                            
proposed   funding  reductions   in  rural   communities,  such   as                                                            
Ketchikan, that have limited  services available. She understood the                                                            
intent that  local communities take  on a larger share of  providing                                                            
these  services, but  she stressed  that resources  are limited  and                                                            
this  could not  be  accomplished.  She told  of the  importance  of                                                            
providing health  care services to  those in need and stressed  that                                                            
rather  than  receive  care  elsewhere,   would  go  untreated.  She                                                            
predicted higher  rates of teen pregnancy  and sexually transmitted                                                             
diseases.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
JEANNIE MONK,  Juneau Community Charter School, testified  in Juneau                                                            
to grants for charter schools  for the Juneau school and other small                                                            
charter schools.  She emphasized the importance of  these grants for                                                            
the small  charter schools  to provide short-term  relief and  allow                                                            
the schools  to secure  other funding  and to  grow and become  more                                                            
stable over time.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
AT EASE 6:20 PM / 6:30 PM                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
CHRISTINE  PATE, Civil Law  Attorney, testified  via teleconference                                                             
from  Sitka  in favor  of  funding  $125,000  for the  Alaska  Legal                                                            
Services  Corporation.   She emphasized   the  importance  of  legal                                                            
representation  for low-income people  for housing, children,  wages                                                            
and other matters.  She spoke of the high percentage  of her clients                                                            
how have  experienced domestic  violence and  need to ensure  safety                                                            
for their children.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
TIM LOWER,  Sitka  Youth Court,  testified via  teleconference  from                                                            
Sitka to  request the Senate  appropriate funds  for the program  in                                                            
the same amount  approved by the House  of Representatives.  He told                                                            
of the  successful  operation of  a youth  court in  Sitka for  four                                                            
years  until 2003,  when lack  of funding  required  closure of  the                                                            
program. He stated that  the Sitka Youth Court had a zero recidivism                                                            
rate during operation of the program.                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
JILL  SIMPSON,  Cordova   Family  Resource  Center,   testified  via                                                            
teleconference  from Cordova to encourage  continued support  of the                                                            
Alaska Counsel  on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.  She stated                                                            
without  adequate funding  for the  Counsel, agencies,  such as  the                                                            
Cordova  center, would  be unable  to offer services  to victims  of                                                            
domestic violence  and sexual assault.  She also noted the  increase                                                            
burden  on  local  law  enforcement   if  these  services  were  not                                                            
available.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
AT EASE 6:37 PM / 6:41 PM                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
JUDE PATE testified via  teleconference from Sitka that he serves on                                                            
the Alaska  Legal Services Corporation  board of directors  and is a                                                            
practicing attorney.  He listed his work history,  including working                                                            
with the Office  of Public Advocacy.  Through his work, he  remarked                                                            
on the great  demand for legal services  by low income Alaskans.  He                                                            
understood  that representation is  available for criminal  matters,                                                            
but not for civil matters.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
AT EASE 6:43 PM / 6:58 PM                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
CHRISTINE    ABRAHAMSON,    Fireweed    Academy,    testified    via                                                            
teleconference from Homer  about this small charter school, which is                                                            
part of the  Kenai Peninsula School  District. She expounded  on the                                                            
benefits of  charter schools as advocates  of the needs of  children                                                            
and as  fiscal efficient  operations.  She requested  the  Committee                                                            
retain  adequate  funding for  education  and charter  schools.  She                                                            
informed that  at the elementary level,  students have participated                                                             
in mock trials in the youth court.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
MARNA  MCGONEGAL,   Harborview  Elementary  School  Parent   Teacher                                                            
Association,  testified  in Juneau that  she moved  her family  from                                                            
Utah  to  receive  better  education  without  the  threat  of  gang                                                            
activities  and 35 students  in each  class. She  told of the  class                                                            
size  of  18  students  and  significant  parental   involvement  at                                                            
Harborview. She informed  that librarian positions have been reduced                                                            
as well  as services  for  students who  speak English  as a  second                                                            
language.  She requested  increased funding  for education  to avoid                                                            
the situation she experienced in the State of Utah.                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
SHELAGH   SANDS,  Harborview   Elementary   School  Parent   Teacher                                                            
Association,  testified   in  Juneau  that  the  reading  scores  of                                                            
students at the  school have dropped and that funding  is inadequate                                                            
for a reading  teacher position. She  also reported that  the school                                                            
has  no  music  teacher  and  other  teaching  positions  have  been                                                            
reduced.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
TONY NEWMAN, Parent  of charter school student, testified  in Juneau                                                            
to thank Senator  Dyson and rep wyrock for support  of small charter                                                            
schools. He relayed his  conversations with parents across the State                                                            
and found that the current  statutes governing small charter schools                                                            
are inadequate  and must be changed.  He exampled that parents  must                                                            
spend significant  time in fundraising activities.  He surmised this                                                            
is discouraging to others in forming new charter schools.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
AT EASE 7:08 PM / 7:10 PM                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
DEBORAH GERMANO  testified via teleconference from  Homer to express                                                            
concern  that proposed budget  reductions  would affect those  least                                                            
able to  provide for themselves.  She supported  broad based  taxes,                                                            
the percent of  market value method of managing the  Permanent Fund.                                                            
She did not  support a statewide sales  tax, as it would  negatively                                                            
impact local communities.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
WHITNEY  CUSHING,  President,   Statewide  Youth  Court  of  Alaska,                                                            
testified  via teleconference  from Homer  that participants  in the                                                            
youth court represent the  best of Alaskan youth. He stated that the                                                            
youth  court benefits  the State  in that  it is  less expensive  to                                                            
operate than the  regular court system. He furthered  that offenders                                                            
are less  likely to appear  in court again  after completion  of the                                                            
youth court  program. He  stressed that the  youth court program  is                                                            
operated  by volunteers, and  that without  State funding,  would be                                                            
unable to continue.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
RICHARD   WARRINGTON,   Brain  Injury   Awareness,   testified   via                                                            
teleconference  from Kenai  to encourage  support  of a fiscal  plan                                                            
that would  provide services for disadvantaged  Alaskans,  including                                                            
the  mental  health  court,  youth  court,  services  for  seriously                                                            
injured  adults, and  treating youth  within the  State rather  than                                                            
sending them to  facilities outside Alaska. He reported  that Alaska                                                            
has the  highest rate  of brain  injury and that  the Alaska  Mental                                                            
Health Board has undertaken  efforts to provide treatment within the                                                            
State.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
AT EASE 7:18 PM / 7:28 PM                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
SFC 04 # 81, Side B 07:29 PM                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
D.  SCOTT SMITH,  Executive  Director,  Safe Harbor,  testified  via                                                            
teleconference  from Kodiak that the  Governor's recommended  budget                                                            
reductions of  $200,000 would not allow the facility  to operate and                                                            
would  leave  the  island  of Kodiak  without  inpatient   treatment                                                            
services for substance  abuse. He disputed charges that the Governor                                                            
has made that the facility  is not utilized by Kodiak residents, and                                                            
cited information  to the contrary.  He shared his contributions  in                                                            
the years after  receiving substance  abuse treatment. He  warned of                                                            
the consequences  of closure  of the facility,  including  increased                                                            
instances of domestic violence,  homelessness and criminal activity.                                                            
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair  Green  understood   that  the  Legislature  is  unable  to                                                            
directly  impact which  facilities  receive the  grant funding.  She                                                            
asked the occupancy rate of the facility.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
Mr. Smith explained  the four-bed  facility, of which only  two beds                                                            
receive  State funding. He  requested the  legislators pressure  the                                                            
Governor to provide funds to Safe Harbor.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
WILTON  NELSON,  Safe  Harbor,  testified  via  teleconference  from                                                            
Kodiak  about  the  high  incidences   of  substance  abuse  in  the                                                            
community  and  the  benefits  of  the  treatment  provided  by  the                                                            
program.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
DAVID ELUSKA,  JR., Resident of Akiak, testified via  teleconference                                                            
from  Kodiak that  Safe Harbor  has benefited  him and  that he  has                                                            
learned much about himself.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
JEANNIE INGA, Safe Harbor,  testified via teleconference from Kodiak                                                            
that her  significant  other is a  resident of  Safe Harbor  and the                                                            
treatment has  made a difference in  his life. She wanted  others to                                                            
benefit from the services as well.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
DEBBIE  GROTHE,  Resident  of  Soldotna,  Brain  Injury   Awareness-                                                            
Traumatic  Brain Injury,  testified  via teleconference  from  Kenai                                                            
about her 18-year-old niece  who received a severe brain injury as a                                                            
result of a  car accident. She detailed  the hospital treatment  and                                                            
in-home care  of Nicole and the high  probability of improvement  of                                                            
her health.  However, she informed  that Blue Cross insurance  would                                                            
not cover the  treatment expenses of a facility in  California where                                                            
she has  been accepted as  a patient. She  requested information  on                                                            
other services that may be available to assist her niece.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
TRAVIS   WOODALL,   Employee   of   Safe   Harbor,   testified   via                                                            
teleconference  from  Kodiak   to  request  the  Committee  use  its                                                            
leverage to  prevent the Governor  from eliminating funding  for the                                                            
program.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
MONTE  HAWYER,  Director,  Brother  Francis  Shelter  testified  via                                                            
teleconference from Kodiak  about the efforts of the organization to                                                            
prevent  people  from becoming  homeless.  He  stated  that  funding                                                            
mental  health treatment  is  morally,  socially and  fiscally  "the                                                            
right thing  to do". He informed that  costs would become  higher in                                                            
the future  if  these services  were not  funded  adequately in  the                                                            
present.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
SUSAN POLLARD,  Alaska Kids Count, testified in Juneau  on behalf of                                                            
education.  She remarked on  the importance  of developing  a fiscal                                                            
plan that  provides adequate  funding for  education. She  supported                                                            
spending from  the Constitutional  Budget Reserve Fund, broad  based                                                            
taxes and other proposals.  However, she stated she was unwilling to                                                            
accept no action.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
LYNN SHEPHERD testified  in Juneau to request funding for libraries,                                                            
museums and  archives. She noted that  funding has been reduced  for                                                            
these facilities  for many years. She listed positions  that must be                                                            
filled, including a curator  for the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka                                                            
and an electronic archivist in Anchorage.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
Senator Dyson  understood that the climate control  is deteriorating                                                            
some  records  in the  archive  facility  in  Juneau and  asked  the                                                            
witness' information on this matter.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
Ms. Shepherd  admitted  she has heard  rumors of  this problem.  She                                                            
shared that  she has visited the facility  and has seen the  massive                                                            
amount of paperwork  and therefore  did not dispute that  the rumors                                                            
could be true.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
AT EASE 7:50 PM / 7:57 PM                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair Green thanked those who provided testimony.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
The bills were HELD in Committee.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair Wilken announced the agenda for the next meeting.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
ADJOURNMENT                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair Lyda Green adjourned the meeting at 07:59 PM                                                                           

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