Legislature(1999 - 2000)

05/14/1999 03:24 PM L&C

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 226 - CREDITED SERVICE FOR ON-THE-JOB INJURIES                                                                               
Number 2006                                                                                                                     
CHAIRMAN ROKEBERG announced the committee's next order of business                                                              
is HB 226, "An Act relating to credited service under the teachers'                                                             
retirement system for education employees on leave without pay or                                                               
receiving workers' compensation benefits because of certain                                                                     
on-the-job injuries."                                                                                                           
Number 2014                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN COGHILL, JR., Alaska State Legislature, came                                                                
forward as the bill sponsor.  Representative Coghill indicated this                                                             
legislation is related to the physical assault of a teacher or                                                                  
school employee.  Currently, if a teacher or school worker is                                                                   
assaulted while performing his/her duties, he/she would receive                                                                 
workers' compensation while out for injury but no money would be                                                                
paid into the person's retirement.  In this legislation, that                                                                   
provision would be paid for by the employer if it was a physical                                                                
assault.  If a teacher or school employee is out for some other                                                                 
work-related injury, this legislation would allow the person to buy                                                             
that time for retirement.  Representative Coghill noted HB 226                                                                  
corrects a small "glitch" in helping teachers and school workers.                                                               
He indicated this came to his attention through working with                                                                    
NEA-Alaska and he had decided to carry this particular piece of                                                                 
legislation.  Representative Coghill thinks it is good for the                                                                  
teachers, is a proper piece of legislation, and he commends it to                                                               
the committee.                                                                                                                  
REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI commented she thinks it is a great bill.                                                               
Referring to the written April 29, 1999, testimony in the bill                                                                  
packet from Cheryl Rankin, a teacher who was injured at the Whaley                                                              
School, Representative Murkowski questioned if Representative                                                                   
Coghill had any idea how many teachers they were actually talking                                                               
about.  She asked if this was an endemic problem, noting she would                                                              
like to think not.                                                                                                              
Number 2112                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL answered he has not seen any statistics on                                                               
that, but perhaps John Cyr [President, NEA-Alaska] or Mr. Church                                                                
[Retirement Supervisor, Division of Retirement and Benefits,                                                                    
Department of Administration] might be willing to answer that                                                                   
CHAIRMAN ROKEBERG indicated he would prefer to hold that testimony.                                                             
REPRESENTATIVE HARRIS commented this was not adding a fiscal note                                                               
for the Department of Education or the retirement and benefits                                                                  
program, but he asked if the legislation would have an implied cost                                                             
to individual public school systems.                                                                                            
REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL replied he thinks it probably will.  He                                                                  
indicated they were asking the employer, the local municipality or                                                              
whoever is in charge of hiring the teacher or school employee, to                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE HARRIS questioned if Representative Coghill had any                                                              
REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL noted these were being written down as he                                                                
spoke.  The average absence is five days; $360 would be an entire                                                               
month's worth.  He noted this was per employee.                                                                                 
REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI referred to the language specifying that                                                               
the assault occur while on the job.  However, she pointed out that                                                              
does not necessarily mean on school grounds.  She questioned that                                                               
a teacher out on a field trip would still be covered under this.                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL answered in the affirmative.  He indicated,                                                              
in response to the chairman's comment, that Mr. Cyr could answer                                                                
questions regarding the amount of people this would affect or who                                                               
have been injured.                                                                                                              
CHAIRMAN ROKEBERG invited Mr. Cyr forward and indicated                                                                         
Representative Coghill should remain with the committee at the                                                                  
Number 2247                                                                                                                     
JOHN CYR, President, NEA-Alaska, came forward to testify in support                                                             
of HB 226.  He expressed his appreciation for the assistance of                                                                 
Representative Coghill and Representative Coghill's staff, Rynnieva                                                             
Moss.  Mr. Cyr indicated NEA-Alaska feels this is really pretty                                                                 
simple.  Workers' compensation ["workers' comp"] is a non-pay                                                                   
status; the person is no longer drawing a paycheck from the                                                                     
[school] district.  Therefore, if a person is assaulted on the job                                                              
and is hurt badly enough to go on workers' compensation, the                                                                    
individual loses his/her retirement benefit for that period of                                                                  
time.  According to their research, the average cost for TRS                                                                    
[Teachers' Retirement System] or PERS [Public Employees' Retirement                                                             
System] is $360 per month for someone making $50,000 annually.                                                                  
They do not have any figures for length of injury caused by                                                                     
physical assault, but five days is the average length of time a                                                                 
person is on workers' compensation for regular on-the-job injuries.                                                             
At $18 per day, that is an average of $90 to cover this.  Mr. Cyr                                                               
pointed out this is an average.  Regarding the number of people, he                                                             
has found one person in the last three years who has been affected:                                                             
Cheryl Rankin, a teacher at the Whaley Center in Anchorage.                                                                     
NEA-Alaska frankly hopes that no one has to use this.  Mr. Cyr                                                                  
indicated he has some other research which shows there are a number                                                             
of teachers and school employees assaulted on the job, but not at                                                               
a level where they draw workers' compensation.  They might be out                                                               
for a day or two, in which case they would draw sick leave.  It                                                                 
would be an extraordinary case where this would affect someone.                                                                 
However, NEA-Alaska does think it is important.  When a person goes                                                             
on workers' compensation, his/her salary is an average of the last                                                              
three years; therefore, he/she could lose money there and would                                                                 
lose retirement.  The person is being caught on both sides because                                                              
of his/her profession.  Mr. Cyr reiterated NEA-Alaska's support for                                                             
the legislation.                                                                                                                
Number 2339                                                                                                                     
CHAIRMAN ROKEBERG asked for a review of the numbers Mr. Cyr had                                                                 
MR. CYR responded that if a person is making $50,000 per year, the                                                              
school district's contribution to TRS, the TRS premium, would be                                                                
$360 per month.  Mr. Cyr added in response to the chairman's                                                                    
request for clarification, "It's the employee premium ... that's                                                                
how much the employee would be contributing per month, and so five                                                              
days of that ....  It is gonna cost districts something, but ...                                                                
it's a real small price to pay to have people feel like they're                                                                 
REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS questioned that the five-day average only                                                                
included workers' compensation, not the one or two-day absences                                                                 
mentioned later.  He indicated the average would then drop way                                                                  
MR. CYR confirmed those one and two days are covered by sick leave                                                              
and are not being counted.  He noted those are not covered in this                                                              
legislation at all.                                                                                                             
CHAIRMAN ROKEBERG questioned whether workers' compensation tripped                                                              
in at five days.                                                                                                                
MR. CYR said he received the figures from [federal] OSHA                                                                        
[Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of                                                              
Labor] which examined on-the-job injuries for public employees.                                                                 
Basically, the median of those injuries is five days and it is not                                                              
broken out into type.  Five days is the median length of time a                                                                 
person is on workers' compensation.  Mr. Cyr indicated he has now                                                               
provided the committee everything he knows about the statistics.                                                                
Mr. Cyr commented he is a history teacher.                                                                                      
There was brief discussion on space-related history questions.                                                                  
Number 2450                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE HALCRO noted that although there has been only one                                                               
incident of violence against a teacher [at that level, as far as                                                                
they are aware], he asked about the threats of violence and                                                                     
questioned whether that has been escalating.                                                                                    
MR. CYR responded, "I don't have my school safety stuff with me and                                                             
I wish I did.  I just got a survey that was done in Anchorage..."                                                               
[TESTIMONY INTERRUPTED BY AUTOMATIC TAPE CHANGE]                                                                                
[From tape log notes: 'percentage' 'level of violence towards                                                                   
school district personnel on the rise' 'verbal assault']                                                                        
TAPE 99-59, SIDE B                                                                                                              
Number 0001                                                                                                                     
MR. CYR responded, "...verbal abuse, I mean it really is going --                                                               
... it's going up across society.  I mean, spend a few minutes too                                                              
long at a traffic light and watch what happens.  ... That's not                                                                 
covered in this, but it is ... scarier ... for all of us to be out                                                              
there, everywhere."                                                                                                             
REPRESENTATIVE HALCRO commented this is amazing.  Noting he grew up                                                             
in the [Anchorage] school district, he related a fifth-grade story                                                              
from 1975 to the committee where he and some friends sneaked next                                                               
door from Lake Otis Elementary to the UAA [University of Alaska                                                                 
Anchorage] bookstore for some candy.  They were caught and received                                                             
swats, paddling, in the principal's office.  Representative Halcro                                                              
related his mother, when informed, had said to give him an extra                                                                
swat from her.  He commented they walked a straight line.                                                                       
Number 0062                                                                                                                     
BILL CHURCH, Retirement Supervisor, Division of Retirement and                                                                  
Benefits, Department of Administration, came forward.  He has a                                                                 
couple of general comments on the legislation.  So far the                                                                      
committee has only been discussing assault, but there is another                                                                
section to this.  Representative Coghill did touch on it, but Mr.                                                               
Church said he wants to make sure everyone understands the                                                                      
legislation has two sections.  Presently, under the PERS system                                                                 
someone who is on leave without pay as the result of a workers'                                                                 
compensation injury or illness can claim that time; in other words,                                                             
buy that as membership service credited in the system.  That has                                                                
not been afforded under the TRS system.  Under Section 3(d) of the                                                              
legislation, this has been corrected.  This allows anyone who is                                                                
collecting workers' compensation benefits to claim that time and                                                                
pay his/her contribution.  Section 3(c) allows this for a physical                                                              
injury [caused by an on-the-job assault]; the employer would pay                                                                
the employee's required TRS contribution.  Section 5 would amend                                                                
the PERS statutes to also allow this for someone who is an employee                                                             
of a school district if it is a physical injury [caused by an                                                                   
on-the-job assault]; the employer would pay the employee's PERS                                                                 
REPRESENTATIVE BRICE questioned the expected fiscal impact.                                                                     
MR. CHURCH responded, "Very nil."  As Mr. Cyr had done, Mr. Church                                                              
indicated he called the Anchorage School District, since it is the                                                              
largest school district in the state, to ask if there are any other                                                             
cases like this outstanding.  The Anchorage School District                                                                     
questioned its risk management people and no other cases were                                                                   
known.  Therefore, this would have a very low impact.                                                                           
Number 0142                                                                                                                     
CHAIRMAN ROKEBERG indicated it would be de minimis, but it would be                                                             
unfair if it is not in place and should be changed.  The chairman                                                               
asked Mr. Church if he would agree with the accuracy of Mr.                                                                     
Church's numbers.                                                                                                               
MR. CHURCH answered in the affirmative.                                                                                         
CHAIRMAN ROKEBERG confirmed there were no further questions for Mr.                                                             
Church.  He questioned if the sponsor had additional comments.                                                                  
REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL noted, first, it pains him to put forward a                                                              
solution which has little impact.  However, he thinks this is a                                                                 
very needed piece of legislation and would provide comfort to                                                                   
teachers [and school employees].  His own school board endorses it.                                                             
Representative Coghill said he would like to see the legislation                                                                
put forward this year; he thinks it would be helpful.                                                                           
REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS said he would like to ease Representative                                                                
Coghill's concern about the impact; he indicated the impact on the                                                              
individual is much, much larger than the impact on the state.                                                                   
Therefore, even though that is minimal, Representative Coghill is                                                               
making a big impact on (indisc.) and should feel good about it.                                                                 
CHAIRMAN ROKEBERG indicated it may very well be little-used, but                                                                
will be there when it is needed.  The chairman commented he is                                                                  
surprised Representative Brice did not pick up on this need.                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE BRICE replied that actually he had, but has done                                                                 
about five or six others.  He indicated, therefore, he had not                                                                  
taken this legislation up but had offered his assistance.                                                                       
CHAIRMAN ROKEBERG noted, however, Representative Brice would be                                                                 
given the honor.                                                                                                                
Number 0230                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE BRICE made a motion to move CSHB 226(HES) out of                                                                 
committee with individual recommendations and the zero fiscal note.                                                             
There being no objection, CSHB 226(HES) moved out of the House                                                                  
Labor and Commerce Standing Committee.                                                                                          

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