Legislature(1999 - 2000)
03/12/1999 01:40 PM Senate JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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 products. 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 character" Insert "established by a municipality [OF LIKE CHARACTER 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.