Legislature(2009 - 2010)BARNES 124
03/27/2009 03:15 PM LABOR & COMMERCE
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
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= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 105-STEP PROGRAM 3:50:19 PM RYNNIEVA MOSS, Staff, Representative John Coghill, Alaska State Legislature, explained on behalf of the prime sponsor, that this bill was introduced last legislature as House Bill 226. She related that HB 105 passed with a two-year sunset, and instructions for the Department of Labor & Workforce Development (DLWD) to form a work group from all sectors of the workforce to recommend how to improve the program. The DLWD commissioner appointed a task force that met several times. The sponsor introduced the bill this year to facilitate a statewide policy for a coordinated and effective employment training and education system. She stated that a lot of effort has been put forth on this bill. She mentioned a proposed committee substitute has been prepared. REPRESENTATIVE LYNN made a motion to adopt the proposed committee substitute (CS) for HB 105, labeled 26-LS0475\C, Wayne, 3/20/09. There being no objection, Version C was before the committee. 3:53:22 PM MS. MOSS explained that the bill provides additional authority for the Alaska Workforce Investment Board (AWIB) with respect to the Statewide Training and Employment Program (STEP) operations. The bill expands their duties to include review and approval of regulations to be adopted by the DLWD. The AWIB would annually review the priorities set by the department. She opined that the bill streamlines the paperwork requirements for the STEP program. She recalled one gentleman stated that the grant process is cruel to businesses. She interpreted that to mean the bureaucracy was simply more than a business should have to endure to obtain funding for his employees. 3:54:38 PM MS. MOSS related that HB 105 would make the STEP a permanent program and would make the AWIB a partner with the DLWD to ensure the training is in areas that Alaska needs additional workforce jobs. She opined that Alaska is anxiously awaiting a gas line, but Alaska needs to be ready for that. Thus, STEP provides a mechanism for that training. 3:55:33 PM MS. MOSS, in response to Representative Buch, explained that the purpose of House Bill 226 was to end the sunset provision and make the program permanent. The legislature asked the DLWD to review the program and make it user friendly. The DLWD's task force met and the AWIB will have more input in the program such as in developing regulations to provide for an appeal process. REPRESENTATIVE BUCH applauded the sponsor's staff for work on this issue. 3:57:15 PM DAVID STONE, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Labor & Workforce Development (DLWD), stated that he serves on the AWIB and was co-chair of the STEP task force. He reiterated that the STEP task force was the result of legislation that passed last year. The STEP task force was charged with developing recommendations for revisions to statutes and regulations to improve the STEP program. He explained that Version C is a result of recommendations made by the STEP task force. The STEP task force was comprised of ten people representing the employers, the employees, the U.S. Department of Labor, the University of Alaska, and the AWIB. The STEP task force met on numerous occasions and recommended the following: Offer services to an expanded pool of workers who may be displaced. Clarify the AWIB oversight and accountability. Support resident hire through targeted projects and services. Increase input from local businesses and regional advisory councils. Streamline the grantee application and reporting process. Make the STEP a permanent program. 3:58:59 PM MR. STONE provided some statistics about the STEP program. The DLWD tracked STEP participants for a full year after training. In 2007, the STEP participants earned $62 million in Alaska wages in the year following their training. This represents an average salary increase of 18 percent. The 1,445 participants increased their earnings by $9.3 million. He related that 91 percent of the participants claimed Alaska as their residence in the 2008 Permanent Fund Dividend applications. Additionally, 95 percent of STEP participants were employed within 12 months. He concluded by stating that STEP works. It consistently is the best training program for unemployed or underemployed Alaskan workers. Furthermore, by reducing the length of time that workers are unemployed, this program is designed to reduce the amount of unemployment insurance benefits that are paid. 4:00:00 PM REPRESENTATIVE BUCH inquired as to whether a list of board members and their affiliations is available. MR. STONE stated that the Workforce Investment Board consists of 25 people, including the commissioners of the Department of Education and Early Development, Department of Labor & Workforce Development, Department of Commerce, Community, & Economic Development. Additionally, members included a broad spectrum of people including Jim Lynch, Fairbanks Hospital, Chair; Linda Hulbert, Fairbanks New York Life Insurance; Doug Ward, Ketchikan Shipyard, operating engineers, and labor groups. 4:01:20 PM MR. STONE, in response to Representative Buch, stated that the process is streamlined in this way. Three people from the AWIB and one public member will review all of the competitive grant applications and make decisions on who will be awarded the grants. If any discretionary funds remain, two members would examine and meet with the DLWD commissioner to make decisions. He highlighted that the whole idea is to make it fast and nimble. 4:02:29 PM DON ETHRIDGE, Lobbyist, Alaska AFL-CIO; Alaska Works Partnership, Inc., stated that both the AFL-CIO and Alaska Works Partnership, Inc. support the program. He explained that the STEP program is particularly helpful to rural residents and people who would not otherwise get training. 4:04:20 PM LINDA HULBERT, Member, Alaska Workforce Investment Board, testified that she has been involved in the STEP program for some time and has watched the program grow and serve Alaskans. She offered that she has served on the AWIB the past few years and also served on the STEP task force. She offered her support for HB 105. She stated that the bill is critical, noting the importance of having a trained and flexible work force. She related that this bill provides key funding to individuals and to groups statewide. She opined that the program can help provide workers with a living wage for families. She concluded by reiterating her strong support for HB 105, without a sunset provision to ensure continuity of the program and for adequate planning purposes. 4:05:57 PM The committee took an at-ease from 4:06 p.m. to 4:08 p.m. 4:08:02 PM DOUG WARD, Director, Shipyard Development, Alaska Ship and Drydock, Inc., explained that Alaska Ship and Drydock, Inc. is an Alaska Corporation operating the Ketchikan shipyard under a 30-year agreement with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA). He stated that he serves as a member of the Alaska Workforce Investment Board, and chairs the Workforce Readiness and Employment Committee, as well as serving on Commissioner Bishop's State Training and Employment Program (STEP) Task Force. His corporation is a current STEP grant recipient, accessing the STEP grant program to develop a stable, knowledgeable, and skilled shipyard workforce. He stated he supports Version C of HB 105. He asked members to keep in mind that the workforce investment board was tasked by Commissioner Bishop in 2007 to reassume and execute statutory authority and fiduciary responsibilities to provide effective oversight of the state's workforce investment initiatives. He related that the commissioner has provided the leadership necessary for the board to accomplish this task. He opined that the board transformed itself into a "hardworking sleeves up" group of people developing tools and policies to maximize the careers in Alaska. He emphasized careers in Alaska, not just jobs. He thanked Deputy Commissioner David Stone for his leadership on the STEP task force. He indicated that the task force recommendations are included in HB 105. He reiterated that this task force has been the most productive task force he has served on, particularly given the diverse interests represented including the University of Alaska, organized labor, employers, legislative staff, and federal workforce professionals. During the course of the year long deliberation the group identified common issues and solutions, and gave unanimous support for the task force report, which is included in Version C. 4:11:37 PM MR. WARD opined that the STEP program has been successful in training Alaskans for good careers. This bill would provide statutory equality for all potential STEP grant recipients and participants and provides the statutory authority necessary for the STEP program to proceed to help create legacy careers for Alaskans. He urged members to support on HB 105. 4:12:26 PM REPRESENTATIVE NEUMAN, after first determining no one else wished to testify, closed public testimony on HB 105. REPRESENTATIVE NEUMAN announced the bill would be held over for further discussion.