Legislature(1999 - 2000)
05/14/1999 03:24 PM L&C
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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 question. 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 pay. REPRESENTATIVE HARRIS questioned if Representative Coghill had any numbers. 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 table. 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 provided. 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 protected. 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 down. 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 contributions. 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.