Legislature(2015 - 2016)HOUSE FINANCE 519
04/18/2015 08:30 AM House FINANCE
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HOUSE BILL NO. 44 "An Act relating to sexual abuse and sexual assault awareness and prevention efforts in public schools." 9:45:37 AM Co-Chair Neuman MOVED to ADOPT the proposed committee substitute for HB 44, Work Draft 29-LS0258\P (Glover, 4/17/15). There being NO OBJECTION, it was so ordered. JANE PIERSON, STAFF, REPRESENTATIVE STEVE THOMPSON, explained the changes in the legislation. She shared that a section had been added to address dating violence and abuse awareness and prevention efforts in public school. She noted that the changes could be found on Page 2, line 15. REPRESENTATIVE CHARISSE MILLETT, SPONSOR, testified that the legislation had been crafted closely to Erin's Law, with the addition of the dating violence curriculum. She reminded the committee that the state face an epidemic in the area of child abuse and child sexual assault. She believed that the legislation was important to address the plight of sexual assault, and the subsequent social issues that stemmed from abuse. 9:48:58 AM Co-Chair Neuman shared a constituent story pertaining to dating violence. 9:50:24 AM CINDY MOORE, SELF, ANCHORAGE (via teleconference), urged the committee to support the legislation. She revealed that 21 other states currently mandated schools to address dating violence. She furthered that patterns of dating violence staring in the teen years carried over into adult relationships as domestic violence. She shared that her daughter, Breanna, had been shot and killed by her abusive boyfriend. She lamented that she and her husband had not been aware of the abuse. She asserted that ignoring the vastness of dating violence and its devastating consequences sent the message to young people that dating violence was a legitimate behavior. She hoped that lawmakers would use their power to fight for the lives of young people. She offered national statistics related to teen dating violence. She contended that, statistically, Alaska was the most dangerous state in the nation based on the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) four major violent crime categories of murder, aggravated assault, robbery, and forcible rape. She added that Anchorage and Fairbanks were on the Forbes 2015 list of the nation's most dangerous cities for women. Alaska leads the nation in rapes per capital at three times the national average. Alaska has the nation's highest rate of women murdered by men at two and a half times the national average. She believed that teen dating violence awareness curriculum could have saved her daughter's life. BUTCH MOORE, SELF, ANCHORAGE (via teleconference), testified that 81 percent of parents were unaware of teen dating violence. He spoke to a proposed amendment to the legislation that would help educate peers about what to do if they suspected a friend was being abused. He noted that his daughter's friends had been aware of the abuse, but had not known how to reach out for help. He believed that the education and tools contained in the legislation would immediately save lives. He likened the dating violence prevention to seat belts being installed in cars to prevent fatal accidents. He spoke to a national study performed by the National Conference of State Legislators that found that 75 percent of all youth grades 7 through 12, were dating; in the prior 12 months of the survey, 10 percent of those people experienced teen dating violence and another 10 percent experience some sort of sexual assault or rape. The numbers in Alaska were much higher. 9:59:23 AM Co-Chair Neuman shared that families had approached him before concerning the issue of sexual abuse. He asserted that the problem needed to be addressed. Co-Chair Thompson CLOSED public testimony. Representative Wilson thought that there was already someone within the Department of Education that was assisting on the development of curriculum related to Erin's Law. MICHAEL HANLEY, COMMISSIONER, DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND EARLY DEVELOPMENT, relayed that the department had one staff member that focused on health in Alaska's schools through the previous administration's Choose Respect campaign. He added healthy relationships had been added into a small percentage of the state's high school and middle school curriculum. He said that the program was optional for districts and, while making a difference where offered, was not reaching all schools or elementary schools. He said that the currently optional programs were not comprehensively reaching all of the schools in the state in the way that was suggested in the legislation. Representative Wilson wondered how much the curriculum in the bill would cost. She asked why oversight of the program by the department had not been written into the bill. Commissioner Hanley responded that the question would be more appropriately addressed to the bill sponsor. He said that he had seen examples of curriculum that could be available at little, to no, cost. He understood that several school districts had K-12 sexual abuse prevention programs already in place. He conceded that some districts had testified that there would be additional cost to implement the legislation. 10:05:26 AM Representative Wilson expressed discomfort with the sexual abuse prevention part of the legislation. She asserted that teachers were not social workers; she believed that the committee needed to hear from the Office of Children's Services (OCS) concerning mandatory reporting. Representative Pruitt asked how the bill would change current policies. Commissioner Hanley replied that it would solidify and quantify what was expected from each of the school districts so that all students, across the state, had access to the education. Representative Pruitt understood that teachers were already mandatory reporters of sexual abuse. Commissioner Hanley replied in the affirmative. Representative Pruitt queried whether teachers were already required to undergo training specific to recognizing signs of sexual assault or dating violence. Commissioner Hanley replied that mandatory reporters: certificated staff, administrators, athletic coaches, went through training to recognize signs of potential abuse and neglect, and to know when they were obligated to report instances. He said that the bill spoke to training for teachers, which could overlap with training they had already received, but also highlighted the teacher's responsibility to educate students on the issues of sexual abuse and dating violence. Representative Pruitt noted that the Erin's Law portion of the bill pertained to grades K-12. He expressed concern for exposing children to issues surrounding sexual abuse. He worried about the age appropriateness of the material for certain children. 10:09:32 AM Commissioner Hanley replied that children should be informed but not exposed to inappropriate material. He stated that the language in the bill directed local school boards to determine the best way to move forward for the students under their per view. He relayed that he had experienced healthy, age appropriate materials with programs already in schools. He noted that parents already had the choice to option out of the current offerings. He pointed out to the committee that the current legislation also maintained the parent's choice to option out of the proposed programs. He asserted that the bill did not mandate inappropriate curriculum, but rather required school districts understand their responsibility in meeting the needs of their students in regard to health education and sexual abuse. Representative Gara asserted that under the legislation the training would be under local control and age appropriate. He asked whether that language covered the issue of teaching children things beyond the scope of their years. Commissioner Hanley answered in the affirmative. Vice-Chair Saddler noted a provision on Page 2, line 10, which offered parents the choice to option out of school sexual awareness training for their children. He called on parents to be active in the lives of their children. Representative Wilson felt that the bill was moving too quickly through committee. She argued that the bill could have negative repercussions. Representative Wilson MOVED to ADOPT conceptual Amendment 1: Page 1, line 11 Delete "shall" Insert "may" Page 2, line 16 Delete "shall" Insert "may" Representative Gara OBJECTED for the purpose of discussion. Representative Wilson believed that the proposed legislation would burden school districts with a program that would have no oversight by the state. 10:15:29 AM Co-Chair Thompson clarified where the amendment would affect the bill. Co-Chair Neuman believed the amendment would be considered friendly by the bill sponsor. Representative Edgmon wondered whether the amendment would negate the intent of the bill. GRACE ABBOTT, STAFF, REPRESENTATIVE CHARISSE MILLETT, believed that the amendment would make the bill unnecessary. She asserted that school districts already had the capacity to implement the programs laid out in the bill; 50 percent of the state's districts already had active programs. Representative Wilson did not believe it took away the effectiveness of the bill. She contended that the Department of Education would not be monitoring the implementation of the program throughout the state. She wondered whether schools could lose funding if parents complained to the department about the program. Ms. Abbott replied that the teeth of the bill lay in the word "shall" and requiring that school districts implement the curriculum. Representative Wilson disagreed. She feared that there would be negative repercussions for schools that did not adopt the curriculum laid out in the bill. She believed that the language was inconsequential if there was no one from the department that would be monitoring the bill. 10:18:20 AM Co-Chair Neuman noted the zero fiscal note and agreed that the conceptual amendment was unnecessary. Representative Wilson maintained her argument. Commissioner Hanley replied that the department worked with districts to build the capacity to implement programs and maintain compliance with state statute. Representative Wilson understood that if a district was out of compliance the department would withhold funding. Commissioner Hanley reiterated that the department would work with the district in order to bring that district into compliance. He asserted that one tool available to the department was the ability to withhold funding; Commissioner Hanley stressed that the tool was not favored, and had never been applied. He recognized that when districts were intentionally out of compliance with state law the department had the responsibility to respond. 10:20:34 AM Representative Wilson felt that the fiscal note was not really zero because the department would have to provide oversight for the legislation. She opined that the bill created an unfunded mandate that could lead to the potential withholding of funds to districts. Representative Pruitt wondered whether the department had information on the proposed programs that could be provided to the various districts in order for them to determine whether they wanted to facilitate the programs. Commissioner Hanley replied that it would be up to local districts whether or not to implement the programs, but that the department would work alongside each district to work through challenges. Representative Kawasaki reiterated concerns that the amendment would weaken the intent of the bill. Vice-Chair Saddler requested further clarity in the department's answer. Commissioner Hanley reiterated that the department had never withheld funding from a school district, but retained the capability to do so if districts were out of compliance with the law. Vice-Chair Saddler demanded a yes or no answer to the question of whether the department would withhold funding from schools that did not implement the programs laid out in the bill. Commissioner Hanley replied that the question begged something more than a yes or no answer. Co-Chair Neuman wondered whether school would be considered in compliance by simply providing to students documents on the subject matter. Ms. Abbott replied in the affirmative. Representative Munoz wondered whether there were provisions in state law that would allow a community to opt out of the policy. Commissioner Hanley replied that statute would have to be changes to reflect the possibility of schools to opt out of a state law. 10:25:03 AM Representative Wilson wondered whether a school would be in compliance by sending home age appropriate materials to be discussed at home. Ms. Abbott believed that if the materials were sent home without any classroom discussion time the school would not be in compliance. Representative Wilson understood that classroom time would be necessary for both the dating violence and the sexual assault pieces of the bill. Ms. Abbott clarified a teacher hanging out documents during class would qualify as class time. If the materials were placed in a mailbox or back pack without any discussion, the school would be out of compliance. A roll call vote was taken on the motion to adopt conceptual Amendment 1. IN FAVOR: Wilson, Gattis, Pruitt OPPOSED: Edgmon, Gara, Guttenberg, Kawasaki, Munoz, Saddler, Neuman, Thompson The MOTION FAILED (3/8). Co-Chair Neuman noted that the Rasmuson Foundation had committed funds to help support the legislation. Co-Chair Neuman MOVED to REPORT CSHB 44(FIN) out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal note. Representative Wilson OBJECTED. She spoke to her objection. She WITHDREW her OBJECTION. There being NO further OBJECTION, CSHB 44(FIN) was REPORTED out of committee with a "do pass" recommendation and with one new zero fiscal note from the Department of Education and Early Development.