Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/21/2004 08:43 AM FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HOUSE BILL NO. 379                                                                                                            
     An Act establishing an office of citizenship assistance                                                                    
     in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.                                                                      
REPRESENTATIVE BRUCE  WEYHRAUCH, SPONSOR, stated  that HB 379                                                                   
would create  an office  to assist  naturalized citizens  and                                                                   
citizen candidates  in Alaska.   HB  379 would establish  the                                                                   
Office of Citizenship  Assistance in the Department  of Labor                                                                   
and Workforce  Development.  Naturalized citizens  and people                                                                   
who  are actively  pursuing United  States citizenship  could                                                                   
receive help navigating through  State employment and federal                                                                   
immigration agencies.                                                                                                           
The  Office of  Citizenship Assistance  would also  act as  a                                                                   
liaison between  individuals, the Office of  the Commissioner                                                                   
and  State  and  federal  agencies as  well  as  the  private                                                                   
sector.   Under the legislation,  the Office would  assist in                                                                   
immigration services,  employment services,  affordable legal                                                                   
service,  medical  services, and  educational  opportunities.                                                                   
Information would be available  regarding job discrimination,                                                                   
sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions.                                                                                
Representative  Weyhrauch  noted   that  Alaska  has  a  rich                                                                   
history of immigration.  Through  the legislation, the Office                                                                   
would be  sensitive to  the diverse  cultural backgrounds  of                                                                   
those  it  would  serve  and  the  Office  would  bridge  the                                                                   
transition  of  adjustment  for   incoming  new  citizens  to                                                                   
Representative  Fate asked  at  this time  how many  citizens                                                                   
could use  the service.  He  noted the fiscal impact  and was                                                                   
concerned that the  State would be assuming the  "job" of the                                                                   
federal government.  Representative  Weyhrauch responded that                                                                   
the work  of the bill  would not be in  doing the job  of the                                                                   
U.S. government.   He emphasized that the  federal government                                                                   
has  not  been helpful  with  these  types  of issues.    The                                                                   
federal  government is  the  problem by  continually  placing                                                                   
impediments  before these  people who  are attempting  to get                                                                   
immigration  status.   He  pointed  out  that they  are  very                                                                   
unresponsive,   mentioning  that   his  office  has   written                                                                   
numerous  letters  for  six-month  periods  and  received  no                                                                   
response.  They do not address the work in a timely manner.                                                                     
The proposed State  agency would not be providing  free legal                                                                   
services,  immigration or  naturalization.   The  legislation                                                                   
proposes   an    Office   to   facilitate    discussion   and                                                                   
communications  between individuals  who  want to  work in  a                                                                   
free  society  and  the  situations that  impede  them.    He                                                                   
stressed  that   the  Office   is  intended  to   assist  and                                                                   
facilitate communication  in employment opportunities.   That                                                                   
is not the work of the federal government.                                                                                      
Representative Fate  inquired if the intent  was primarily to                                                                   
help with citizenship and/or jobs.   He was concerned that it                                                                   
might create  competition for  local residents attempting  to                                                                   
get jobs.   Representative Weyhrauch acknowledged  that was a                                                                   
possibility, however,  the intent is citizenship  assistance.                                                                   
A State  employee would not  be allowed to discriminate  over                                                                   
race  or  color,  noting  that  some  of  these  people  have                                                                   
difficulty even speaking English.                                                                                               
Vice  Chair  Meyer  inquired  if  such  an  office  has  ever                                                                   
existed.   Representative  Weyhrauch  explained that  Senator                                                                   
Kelly  from Fairbanks  previously  introduced  a bill,  which                                                                   
went nowhere.   Vice  Chair Meyer  understood that  there had                                                                   
been   a  similar   position   within  Legislative   Affairs.                                                                   
Representative  Weyhrauch  clarified  that in  2000,  Senator                                                                   
Halford,  then the Senate  President,  created a job  service                                                                   
through  legislative  funding  to  help  with  that  type  of                                                                   
concern  and  at  that  time,   the  Legislature  saw  it  as                                                                   
Vice  Chair  Meyer  asked  if   it  should  be  relocated  in                                                                   
Legislative  Affairs  Agency  and  then it  could  be  helped                                                                   
through  Legislative  influence.    Representative  Weyhrauch                                                                   
commented that placing it there  would not necessarily remove                                                                   
the struggles of  bureaucracy.  The intent of the  bill is to                                                                   
guarantee that the position is created.                                                                                         
In  response  to Vice  Chair  Meyer's  query,  Representative                                                                   
Weyhrauch commented  that it is important to  have the Office                                                                   
as a matter of  policy within State government.   There is an                                                                   
understanding in  the Executive  Branch that it  is important                                                                   
for  such an  agency to  act in  a  cohesive, consistent  and                                                                   
ongoing manner.   Vice Chair  Meyer agreed that  the position                                                                   
should exist,  however, thought  that it should  remain under                                                                   
legislative jurisdiction.                                                                                                       
Representative  Hawker pointed out  that presently,  there is                                                                   
the State  Ombudsmen's Office.   He thought that  the service                                                                   
proposed  in HB  379 could  be performed  within that  Office                                                                   
with   the  existing   budget.     Representative   Weyhrauch                                                                   
responded that  was possible,  however, that Office  does not                                                                   
approach the same  issues addressed by the legislation.   The                                                                   
State Ombudsmen's Office is generally  staffed by an American                                                                   
U.S.  citizen  and  most  often  deals  with  issues  of  the                                                                   
Executive Branch.  The proposed  Office would help those that                                                                   
need  assistance  with  either   employment  or  interpretive                                                                   
services to assist  in dealing with employment  problems.  He                                                                   
acknowledged that  it does have  an "ombudsmen's  flavor" and                                                                   
noted that had  been considered as a potential  option but it                                                                   
became  obvious that  it was different  and  did not fit  for                                                                   
those specific specialized services.                                                                                            
Representative  Hawker  referenced  the  fiscal  note,  which                                                                   
would fund  one range 17 employee  and office supplies.   The                                                                   
largest  line  item  is  interpreter   fees.    He  asked  if                                                                   
directing the  Ombudsmen's Office  to undertake the  mission,                                                                   
then instead of a $112 thousand  dollar fiscal note, allocate                                                                   
them $24  thousand dollars for  the interpreter fees  and the                                                                   
use  of  their office  supplies.    Representative  Weyhrauch                                                                   
noted  that he  did question  the assumptions  of the  fiscal                                                                   
note.   He recommended that the  fiscal costs be  directed to                                                                   
the Department of Labor & Workforce Development.                                                                                
Co-Chair Harris  asked if the  position had ever  been seated                                                                   
within  the  Department  of  Labor  &  Workforce  Development                                                                   
before.  Representative Weyhrauch  stated that the Department                                                                   
has  worked hard  to accommodate  these types  of issues  and                                                                   
requested   that   Commissioner    O'Claray   address   that.                                                                   
Representative Weyhrauch interjected  that it is not just one                                                                   
particular nationality  or group  of people involved,  noting                                                                   
that  he  was  astonished  at how  many  foreigners  come  to                                                                   
Alaska.    Most  often  these  people  work  extremely  hard,                                                                   
sometimes having three jobs.                                                                                                    
GREG O'CLARAY,  COMMISSIONER, DEPARTMENT OF  LABOR, commented                                                                   
on the  bill and requested that  Mr. Bell address  the fiscal                                                                   
concerns identified by the Committee members.                                                                                   
GUY  BELL,  DIRECTOR, DIVISION  OF  ADMINISTRATIVE  SERVICES,                                                                   
DEPARTMENT OF  LABOR & WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT,  commented that                                                                   
the fiscal note had been modeled  after the bill sponsored by                                                                   
Senator  Kelly  from   three  years  ago.     That  note  was                                                                   
substantially larger  than the proposed note.  It  had two or                                                                   
three   positions    associated   with   it    and   included                                                                   
substantially  higher travel and  operating costs  because it                                                                   
would have established offices  in both Juneau and Anchorage.                                                                   
That note was used as the starting  point.  Mr. Bell reminded                                                                   
members that  there is  very restrictive  use of monies  that                                                                   
the Department  receives  from the federal  government.   The                                                                   
request  had to  become  a  general fund  cost,  as  it is  a                                                                   
special  service beyond  what  is authorized  in the  federal                                                                   
program.    It was  determined  that  one position  would  be                                                                   
needed and  located in  Juneau with  a limited travel  budget                                                                   
for a few trips to Anchorage and  other parts of the State, a                                                                   
contractual   budget  for   basic  office   costs,  and   the                                                                   
interpreter service  costs.  He called that  service a "soft"                                                                   
item as it is  not known what services will be  required.  He                                                                   
noted the possibility  that the Office might be  able to find                                                                   
volunteers  for that  service.   Mr. Bell  thought that  they                                                                   
could lower the interpreter service  portion of the note from                                                                   
$24 thousand dollars to $4 thousand dollars.                                                                                    
Mr. Bell concluded that the position  would be located in the                                                                   
Commissioners  Office  on the  basis  that it  should  report                                                                   
directly  to   the  Commissioner   rather  than   a  division                                                                   
director, given the broad range of responsibilities.                                                                            
Co-Chair Williams  asked if the  note would be reduced.   Mr.                                                                   
Bell responded  that the  Department would  reduce it  by $20                                                                   
thousand dollars.                                                                                                               
Co-Chair Harris  inquired if an  interpreter would  be making                                                                   
$120  dollars an  hour.   Mr.  Bell replied  that the  dollar                                                                   
number of the proposed note had  been taken from the previous                                                                   
bill and  the assumption was  not questioned.   He reiterated                                                                   
that it was a soft cost.                                                                                                        
Co-Chair  Harris thought  the bill  was a  good idea,  noting                                                                   
that he  would support  the bill  with the  reduction to  the                                                                   
fiscal  note.    Representative  Weyhrauch  inquired  if  the                                                                   
supply  and  furnishing  dollar  amount  had  come  from  the                                                                   
Legislative  Affairs note.   Mr. Bell  replied that  had been                                                                   
the Department's  own internal  determination for  a personal                                                                   
computer, a  printer and basic  phones.  The  Department felt                                                                   
it  would  be appropriate  to  have  some  basic  information                                                                   
material printed  and produced and a description  of services                                                                   
the office  would offer.   He added  that those are  the cost                                                                   
components  that  are  standard  when creating  any  type  of                                                                   
Office.   Representative  Weyhrauch  pointed  out that  there                                                                   
currently  are  desks  and  cubical   spaces  in  the  office                                                                   
buildings.   He thought  that since  they already exist,  why                                                                   
could they not be moved.                                                                                                        
Representative  Chenault  proposed   that  HB  379  might  be                                                                   
special  legislation.    He referenced  the  total  operating                                                                   
costs for  FY06, which are  different from what  is requested                                                                   
in the  funding source.   Mr. Bell embarrassingly  noted that                                                                   
the  Department had  made an  addition mistake  and that  the                                                                   
cost   should    have   been    $106.1   thousand    dollars.                                                                   
Representative  Chenault indicated  his support  of the  bill                                                                   
acknowledging the difficulty that these people experience.                                                                      
Representative  Hawker  referenced language  indicating  what                                                                   
the Office intends to accomplish.   He asked if there already                                                                   
were operations in the State system  that could address these                                                                   
concerns.  Commissioner  O'Claray acknowledged  that each job                                                                   
center  does offer  a wide array  of resources  on a  limited                                                                   
basis.   The  Office  proposed in  the  legislation would  be                                                                   
focused on particular problems.                                                                                                 
Representative  Hawker pointed out  that this is  a statewide                                                                   
issue.  He inquired  if spreading the mission  to the outline                                                                   
job centers  throughout  the State could  further reduce  the                                                                   
fiscal note.  He warned that since  the problem is statewide,                                                                   
how   would  the   remote  sites   access  the   information.                                                                   
Commissioner  O'Claray responded  that with the  installation                                                                   
of  a fax  machine and  email  systems, the  Office could  be                                                                   
specifically focused.                                                                                                           
Representative  Hawker asked  if  there were  federal or  any                                                                   
other   source    funds   available   for    this   activity.                                                                   
Commissioner  O'Claray replied  that there  are not  and that                                                                   
the services  mostly are  intended to  deal with  Immigration                                                                   
and Naturalization Service (INS).                                                                                               
Representative  Fate asked  if  there were  ways to  identify                                                                   
people seeking  citizenship in other  areas of the  State and                                                                   
outside of Juneau.   Commissioner O'Claray replied  that they                                                                   
could  absolutely  handle those  cases.   The  bill  provides                                                                   
additional services beyond what  is normally addressed in the                                                                   
job centers  and is intended  to provide more  intensive core                                                                   
services rather than routine employment services.                                                                               
MARIO  LIM, JUNEAU,  commented  that he  had  been the  first                                                                   
person  who manned  the Office  through Legislative  Affairs.                                                                   
He stressed that the need is enormous.   There is a comradery                                                                   
within  the  minorities with  a  deep  dislike of  the  white                                                                   
people  because of  how  difficult things  have  been in  the                                                                   
past.  Mr. Lim pointed out that  there is no one in the State                                                                   
supporting  the people  with  these types  of  concerns.   He                                                                   
pointed out  that these  people are  also helping to  support                                                                   
the State.  He emphasized that  there is an enormous need for                                                                   
the  people that  cannot  speak English  and  as a  minority,                                                                   
there is  a tremendous  amount of  discrimination.   He urged                                                                   
that the bill be adopted, as it is a statewide issue.                                                                           
Vice  Chair Meyer  asked where  his work  is done.   Mr.  Lim                                                                   
replied that  his work is done  statewide.  Vice  Chair Meyer                                                                   
questioned  if  the  position  would  be  better  located  in                                                                   
Anchorage  where  the  larger  population  lives.    Mr.  Lim                                                                   
responded that  in the age  of technological assistance,  the                                                                   
position could be located anyplace statewide.                                                                                   
SAL LUMBA, IMMIGRATION  GROUP, JUNEAU, urged  support for the                                                                   
Representative  Foster   MOVED  to  report  HB   379  out  of                                                                   
Committee  with  individual  recommendations   and  with  the                                                                   
adjusted new fiscal  note.  There being NO  OBJECTION, it was                                                                   
so ordered.                                                                                                                     
HB  379  was reported  out  of  Committee  with a  "do  pass"                                                                   
recommendation  and with  a  new fiscal  impact  note by  the                                                                   
Department of Labor & Workforce Development.                                                                                    

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