Legislature(1999 - 2000)

03/12/1999 01:40 PM Senate JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
              SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE                                                                                        
                    March 12, 1999                                                                                              
                      1:40 p.m.                                                                                                 
MEMBERS PRESENT                                                                                                                 
Senator Robin Taylor, Chairman                                                                                                  
Senator Rick Halford, Vice-Chairman                                                                                             
Senator Dave Donley                                                                                                             
MEMBERS ABSENT                                                                                                                  
Senator John Torgerson                                                                                                          
Senator Johnny Ellis                                                                                                            
COMMITTEE CALENDAR                                                                                                              
SENATE BILL NO. 77                                                                                                              
"An Act relating to civil actions by municipalities and certain                                                                 
public corporations and prohibiting certain civil actions by them                                                               
against firearms or ammunition manufacturers and dealers."                                                                      
     -HEARD AND HELD                                                                                                            
PREVIOUS SENATE COMMITTEE ACTION                                                                                                
SB 77 - No previous action to report.                                                                                           
WITNESS REGISTER                                                                                                                
Senator Pete Kelly                                                                                                              
State Capitol                                                                                                                   
Juneau, AK 99811-1182                                                                                                           
POSITION STATEMENT: Presented SB 77                                                                                             
Mr. Victor Gunn                                                                                                                 
Staff to Senator Pete Kelly                                                                                                     
State Capitol                                                                                                                   
Juneau, AK 99811-1182                                                                                                           
POSITION STATEMENT: Presented SB 77                                                                                             
ACTION NARRATIVE                                                                                                                
TAPE 99-17, SIDE A                                                                                                              
Number 001                                                                                                                      
CHAIRMAN ROBIN TAYLOR called the Judiciary Committee meeting to                                                                 
order at 1:40 p.m. and announced SB 77 as the first and only order                                                              
of business.                                                                                                                    
             SB 77 - LIABILITY RELATING TO FIREARMS                                                                             
SENATOR PETE KELLY, sponsor of SB 77, said SB 77 was drafted in                                                                 
response to lawsuits against gun manufacturers by municipalities                                                                
across the country. These suits claim gun manufacturers conspired                                                               
to flood markets outside strictly-regulated cities with firearms                                                                
with the knowledge these guns will reach the cities and be sold and                                                             
used illegally. The lawsuits attempt to reach into the deep pockets                                                             
of gun manufacturers and reduce access to firearms, according to                                                                
SENATOR KELLY.                                                                                                                  
SENATOR KELLY stated the intent of this bill is to prevent local                                                                
governments from seeking reimbursement for the costs of gun-related                                                             
violence and to send the message that the responsibility for crimes                                                             
lies with those who commit them, not with manufacturers of legal                                                                
SENATOR KELLY noted there has been similar legislation proposed in                                                              
several states and in Congress. He said Alaska, with its strong                                                                 
belief in the second amendment, can be a leader in this area.                                                                   
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asked SENATOR KELLY if he had any comment on the                                                                
amendment given to the committee by the bill drafter. SENATOR KELLY                                                             
replied the amendment is a clean up measure and has no impact on                                                                
the substance of the bill.                                                                                                      
Number 074                                                                                                                      
SENATOR HALFORD declared he likes the bill. He asked if it could be                                                             
expanded to prohibit litigation against gun manufacturers by                                                                    
individuals in all cases except those in which the product was                                                                  
faulty. "Obviously, I don't want to protect someone from a faulty                                                               
product; if the gun blows up, if the gun fires without pulling the                                                              
trigger, or any of these other things."                                                                                         
SENATOR KELLY said the bill continues to protect manufacturers when                                                             
a gun has been modified from its "lawful design," but a                                                                         
manufacturer can still be sued for faulty design and breach of                                                                  
warranty.  SENATOR HALFORD asked why the bill couldn't be expanded                                                              
to include lawsuits brought by individuals, not only suits from                                                                 
municipalities. SENATOR KELLY said he had no "big problem" with                                                                 
that, but deferred to the expertise of his staff.                                                                               
Number 120                                                                                                                      
MR. VICTOR GUNN, staff to Senator Pete Kelly, testified that none                                                               
of the states researched had prohibited individuals from suing, due                                                             
to the unlikelihood that an individual would have the financial                                                                 
capability to launch and sustain a lawsuit against a  large                                                                     
manufacturer or group of manufacturers. SENATOR KELLY said he has                                                               
no opposition to adding this prohibition, noting that individuals                                                               
might receive financial backing from large interest groups. SENATOR                                                             
HALFORD commented, "That's what I'd like to see us do."                                                                         
Number 144                                                                                                                      
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR said the real question is not one of product                                                                    
liability or negligence of design. He remarked that "Some of those                                                              
things, I think, have significant social value . . . but for that                                                               
type of litigation, you never would have had a guard put on an                                                                  
electric motor." CHAIRMAN TAYLOR explained the genesis of this type                                                             
of suit was tobacco litigation, in which legal products, legally                                                                
manufactured and sold, were challenged in court. He said there                                                                  
should be a way to expand the bill to protect manufacturers who                                                                 
engage in the sale of a legal product from legal responsibility for                                                             
the misuse of the product.                                                                                                      
SENATOR HALFORD agreed, saying they do not want to ban suits                                                                    
related to improper design, engineering, or manufacturing, only in                                                              
cases of "a gun which functions perfectly well, exactly as was                                                                  
intended, and because a person pointed it in the wrong direction,                                                               
the manufacturer of the hammer will now be sued because we struck                                                               
our thumb with the hammer - that's what irritates me." CHAIRMAN                                                                 
TAYLOR agreed and said, "I would like to find a way . . . to expand                                                             
this thing to other products . . . but I'm afraid that as soon as                                                               
you do this, you run into the political correctness folks."                                                                     
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR insisted he did not want to slow the bill or convey                                                             
the impression the committee does not support the bill.                                                                         
Number 225                                                                                                                      
SENATOR HALFORD suggested a conceptual amendment to the bill: Page                                                              
2, line 7 delete "a municipality or public corporation established                                                              
by a municipality" and replace it with other wording. SENATOR                                                                   
DONLEY interrupted, saying this bill refers to a statute that                                                                   
covers municipalities exclusively.                                                                                              
Number 245                                                                                                                      
SENATOR HALFORD proposed an amendment to use the same language                                                                  
currently in SB 77, to change it from "a municipality or public                                                                 
corporation established by a municipality" to "no person shall" and                                                             
insert it where appropriate in statute.  He said the initial bill                                                               
remains the same and a second section is created applying the same                                                              
standard in the bill to all individuals and entities.                                                                           
SENATOR KELLY asked if this would include the State. SENATOR                                                                    
HALFORD said it should, and he assumed it would.                                                                                
Number 265                                                                                                                      
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR cautioned they might get into a separation of                                                                   
powers problem, but both SENATOR DONLEY and SENATOR HALFORD agreed                                                              
they were within their power to do this.                                                                                        
SENATOR DONLEY proposed a conceptual amendment that "takes what                                                                 
Section 2 does for municipal governments and apply it to the                                                                    
general population. Then you want another section that says apply                                                               
it to the State also."                                                                                                          
Number 275                                                                                                                      
SENATOR HALFORD moved SENATOR DONLEY's conceptual amendment, and                                                                
without objection, the amendment was adopted.                                                                                   
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR offered Amendment #2, by the bill drafter. He                                                                   
explained the amendment may limit the bill to public corporations                                                               
created by municipalities and exclude other entities. This would                                                                
not include a community council, for example. The text of the                                                                   
amendment follows:                                                                                                              
     Page 1, lines 9-11:                                                                                                        
          Delete "of like character in its corporate name, and                                                                  
     upon a cause of action accruing to it in its corporate                                                                     
          Insert "established by a municipality [OF LIKE                                                                        
     IN ITS CORPORATE NAME, AND UPON A CAUSE OF ACTION                                                                          
     ACCRUING TO IT IN ITS CORPORATE CHARACTER]"                                                                                
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR moved Amendment #2. Without objection, the                                                                      
amendment was adopted.                                                                                                          
SENATOR DONLEY said, if there was cause for CHAIRMAN TAYLOR's                                                                   
concern with the issue of separation of powers, "We'll just go with                                                             
as much as we can do, constitutionally, with the draft." CHAIRMAN                                                               
TAYLOR agreed.                                                                                                                  
Number 302                                                                                                                      
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR stated that he had not taken public testimony so                                                                
far because he knew the committee was going to lose their quorum                                                                
and he believed at least most of the people on line, many of whom                                                               
he knows personally, support the bill. He asked if anyone on the                                                                
teleconference network was opposed to SB 77. There was no response.                                                             
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asked if it would be fair to assume that those                                                                  
people on the teleconference network: Dick Bishop, John Hume, Doug                                                              
Albright, Noel Napolilli, Elzie Isley, Johhny Rice, Jim Rowe and                                                                
Joe Andreis, support the legislation and the amendments passed by                                                               
the committee. An unidentified male speaker replied, "Yes, thank                                                                
you Mr. Chairman."                                                                                                              
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR thanked the teleconference participants for showing                                                             
up to testify and apologized for abbreviating the meeting. He                                                                   
announced there would be a committee substitute before the                                                                      
committee Monday.                                                                                                               
With no further business to come before the committee, CHAIRMAN                                                                 
TAYLOR adjourned the meeting at 2:00 p.m.                                                                                       

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