Legislature(2009 - 2010)BARNES 124

04/09/2009 01:00 PM MILITARY & VETERANS' AFFAIRS


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Audio Topic
01:03:10 PM Start
01:03:38 PM HB65
01:29:45 PM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
*+ HB 65 PFD ALLOWABLE ABSENCE:MILTARY CONTRACTORS TELECONFERENCED
Heard & Held
+ Overview: Veterans' Caucus TELECONFERENCED
HB  65-PFD ALLOWABLE ABSENCE:MILTARY CONTRACTORS                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
1:03:38 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GATTO  announced that the  only order of business  would be                                                               
HOUSE BILL NO.  65, "An Act relating to an  allowable absence for                                                               
certain military civilian employees  and civilian contractors for                                                               
purposes   of   determining   eligibility  for   permanent   fund                                                               
dividends; and providing for an effective date."                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
1:04:08 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  BOB  LYNN,  Alaska State  Legislature,  as  prime                                                               
sponsor of  HB 65, said he  thinks the proposed legislation  is a                                                               
good concept.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
1:04:32 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
DIRK  MOFFATT,  Staff,  Representative  Bob  Lynn,  Alaska  State                                                               
Legislature, presenting  HB 65 on behalf  of Representative Lynn,                                                               
prime sponsor,  paraphrased the sponsor statement,  which read as                                                               
follows [original punctuation provided]:                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
     HB 65 would create  a Permanent Fund Dividend allowable                                                                    
     absence for  Alaskans who serve in  a civilian capacity                                                                    
     for  the United  States Military.   This  would include                                                                    
     civilians who  are either  direct employees  or outside                                                                    
     contractors who  are contractually obligated  to deploy                                                                    
     with and  in support of  the U.S. Military.   Currently                                                                    
     under Section 43.23.008  "Allowable absences" the state                                                                    
     of  Alaska  provides  excused  absences  for  otherwise                                                                    
     eligible  Alaskans who  are absent  from the  state for                                                                    
     more  than 180  days.   Excused absences  are given  to                                                                    
     students, armed  service members, staff to  and members                                                                    
     of  congress  and  employees  of  the  State  who  work                                                                    
     outside the  state.  We  also provide  excused absences                                                                    
     to  civilians serving  in the  Peace Corps,  members of                                                                    
     the United States Olympic  Team and individuals serving                                                                    
     under foreign or coastal  articles of employment aboard                                                                    
     an  oceangoing vessel  of  the  United States  merchant                                                                    
     marine.   In our modern  military today jobs  once done                                                                    
     by service members in uniform  are now done by civilian                                                                    
     employees  or   contractors.     We  believe   that  an                                                                    
     allowable   absence   for    civilian   employees   and                                                                    
     contractors  serving  outside  while  under  orders  to                                                                    
     deploy by the U.S. Armed  Forces is justified.  Whether                                                                    
     it's  the civilian  contractors who  keep our  military                                                                    
     aircraft  flying  in  Iraq   and  Afghanistan,  or  the                                                                    
     civilian employees of the Army  Corps of Engineers sent                                                                    
     to  help with  a  natural disaster  like Katrina,  they                                                                    
     deserve to be excused.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
1:06:17 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GATTO offered  his understanding that in World  War II, the                                                               
U.S.  Merchant  Marines  were civilian  contractors  rather  than                                                               
military personnel.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
MR.  MOFFATT  said  the  U.S.  Merchant  Marines  are  considered                                                               
civilians  and  "currently  under   statute  they're  covered  as                                                               
excused absence if you fall under that category."                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
1:06:59 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE OLSON  inquired as to  how many people  this would                                                               
cover.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MR. MOFFATT  estimated that it  would be a small  number, perhaps                                                               
30.                                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  OLSON   expressed  discomfort  at   the  proposed                                                               
retroactivity of  the bill.  He  said he thinks the  number would                                                               
be a  lot more  than 30, since  he estimated he  has close  to 20                                                               
friends who are contractors in Iraq.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR   GATTO  recollected   that  former   Representative  Ethan                                                               
Berkowitz   had  talked   about  civilians   who  took   jobs  in                                                               
Antarctica, and that  the legislature had voted  down the ability                                                               
of  those  civilians  to  use their  situation  as  an  allowable                                                               
absence for the purpose of receiving a permanent fund dividend.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE OLSON emphasized his concern  is based not only on                                                               
the retroactivity  of the bill, but  also on the large  amount of                                                               
last year's permanent fund dividend.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
1:08:51 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  LYNN  indicated  that  he would  be  amenable  to                                                               
changing the effective date.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
1:09:09 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  GATTO   expressed  concern  about  whether   the  proposed                                                               
legislation  should be  passed, which  would  add on  a group  of                                                               
employees who are  working for a corporation and are  out of town                                                               
"for  reasons they  have  considered economically  advantageous."                                                               
He asked,  "Why don't we  just extend  it to everybody  who says,                                                               
'Hey, I'm an Alaskan and I'm  getting out of town for the winter,                                                               
and I get an allowable absence.'?"                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
1:09:38 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  OLSON  remarked that  the  bill  title is  rather                                                               
broad.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
1:09:51 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE     BUCH    echoed     [Representative    Gatto's]                                                               
aforementioned  sentiments,  stating  that   he  is  reticent  to                                                               
obligate the  state with  a commitment  based on  an individual's                                                               
economic  choice.   He said  he has  two "ongoing  discrepancies"                                                               
with constituents.   One is  a woman who  was a student  in Japan                                                               
and whose absence  did not qualify for receiving a  PFD.  He said                                                               
even if the effective date were  not retroactive, he would have a                                                               
difficult  time "giving  somebody  the  opportunity just  because                                                               
they made  that choice  that they felt  they should  be receiving                                                               
something that we have some very stringent requirements for."                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
1:11:16 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  RAMRAS remarked  that not  all "these  folks" are                                                               
making six figures.  He suggested  it might be worthwhile to find                                                               
out what the jobs are and how many  of those jobs exist.  He said                                                               
some of  those folks share some  of the same risks  that those in                                                               
our military face.                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
1:13:45 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
KAREN DORONDO  testified that she  is a civilian employee  of the                                                               
U.S.  Department of  Defense, who  works for  the U.S.  Army, and                                                               
whose  work  requires  that  she  go  wherever  she  is  sent  on                                                               
temporary duty  (TDY).  She relayed  that she has been  an Alaska                                                               
resident since 1970 and owns a  home [in the state].  Ms. Dorondo                                                               
stated  that she  was  offended  that she  was  not considered  a                                                               
resident when she was sent to Iraq  in 2007.  She said she thinks                                                               
the consideration that  those who make too much  money should not                                                               
get a permanent fund is odd.   She stated that there are probably                                                               
some wealthy  people who  live in Alaska  year round  and receive                                                               
the PFD.   She  said her TDY  has been extended  in the  past for                                                               
lack of a replacement.   She concluded that she considers herself                                                               
deserving [of a PFD], because Alaska is her home.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
1:17:13 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  GATTO said  he  does  not think  anyone  present made  the                                                               
suggestion that  a person's  income would  be a  consideration in                                                               
determining  whether  or  not  a  person  would  qualify  for  an                                                               
allowable  absence  for  purposes  of  a PFD.    He  offered  his                                                               
understanding that the Permanent  Fund Corporation sets the rules                                                               
and  uses  the requirement  of  residency  and allowable  absence                                                               
[from Alaska].                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
1:17:43 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  HARRIS responded  that  he does  not believe  the                                                               
Permanent  Fund Division  makes rules;  the legislature  sets the                                                               
rules and the division administers those rules.                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
1:18:17 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  LYNN thanked  [Ms.  Dorondo] for  her service  to                                                               
United States.  He asked if she is ever subjected to enemy fire.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MS. DARONGO  replied that where  she is presently  located, there                                                               
was  mortar fire  last week;  however, she  said she  was nowhere                                                               
near it at the  time.  She said she has been  on other bases when                                                               
they have  had mortars, but  not within fire.   She said  she has                                                               
been lucky.   In response to  a follow-up question, she  said her                                                               
home  station  is Ft.  Richardson,  and  she  works as  a  supply                                                               
logistics representative - she takes  part in providing equipment                                                               
to soldiers.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
1:19:46 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE LYNN said someone made  the comment that it is the                                                               
economic choice  of people like  Ms. Dorondo to "go  over there."                                                               
He said  that in some respect  it is also the  economic choice of                                                               
people  to join  a  volunteer  military.   He  said the  civilian                                                               
contractors share  most of the  same risk as  [military personnel                                                               
serving] in hostile  locations.  He emphasized  the importance of                                                               
the civilian contractors to the work of the military.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MS. DARONGO concurred.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
1:20:46 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
DEBBIE  BITNEY,  Director,   Permanent  Fund  Dividend  Division,                                                               
Department of Revenue, apologized for  the lack of a fiscal note.                                                               
She explained that  she was afraid to even attempt  a guess as to                                                               
how many Alaskan's this proposed legislation could affect.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
1:21:31 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MS.  BITNEY,  in  response to  Representative  Harris,  said  the                                                               
Department of Revenue has taken no  position regarding HB 65.  In                                                               
response to  a follow-up  question, she said  whether or  not the                                                               
bill  would  create  considerable  work for  the  division  would                                                               
depend on the  number of people who claim the  absence.  She said                                                               
each  person who  makes the  claim would  automatically become  a                                                               
case  that  would  require  review by  a  technician.    People's                                                               
absences  are sometimes  more  complex -  "they  don't always  go                                                               
straight  there and  come  back" -  which  means additional  time                                                               
spent  on the  case,  she  said.   Furthermore,  denials and  the                                                               
subsequent appeals would increase the division's work.                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
1:23:01 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MS. BITNEY, in response to  Representative Harris, confirmed that                                                               
those active duty  military personnel who are  deployed are given                                                               
allowable absences and  thus can receive their PFDs.   She stated                                                               
her belief that  they can request waivers of  the "72-hour rule,"                                                               
which requires  a person with  an allowable absence to  return to                                                               
Alaska for 72 hours every two years.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
1:23:36 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  HARRIS summarized  that the  proposed legislation                                                               
would  include  civilians deployed  for  work  with the  military                                                               
under the  same provisions that  currently cover  active military                                                               
personnel who are deployed.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MS. BITNEY responded that that is her understanding.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
1:23:53 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MS.  BITNEY related  that  the retroactivity  proposed  in HB  65                                                               
would  increase  the  fiscal  note   exponentially,  which  is  a                                                               
concern,  because the  division does  not have  the money  to pay                                                               
dividends for prior years.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
1:24:35 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  OLSON noted  that during  the 2001-2002  session,                                                               
legislation  was  proposed  that would  have  included  allowable                                                               
absences  for  those in  the  Peace  Corps  and AmeriCorps.    He                                                               
recollected, "By  the time  the bill  died, I  think it  was well                                                               
over a thousand ... people."                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
1:25:46 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE BUCH  asked if [Ms. Dorondo]  would have qualified                                                               
for the PFD  if she had returned.  He  clarified that when people                                                               
meet  certain  obligations of  the  permanent  fund, they  remain                                                               
eligible, and  he wants to  know "whereby this person  would have                                                               
been eligible to meet those requirements."                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MS.  BITNEY  stated her  belief  that  [Ms. Dorondo]  would  have                                                               
remained a  resident for the  program by all other  accounts; the                                                               
issue  is [Ms.  Dorondo's] length  of absence  from the  state of                                                               
Alaska.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
1:27:15 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE OLSON  questioned if  an involuntary  extension of                                                               
Ms. Dorondo's time away from Alaska would be grounds for appeal.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MS. BITNEY responded that currently  anyone can be outside of the                                                               
state for  180 days  for any  reason and  remain qualified  for a                                                               
PFD,  but beyond  that, a  person must  qualify for  an allowable                                                               
absence.  Circumstances  beyond a person's control  have not ever                                                               
successfully  resulted  in  a decision  that  was  overturned  by                                                               
appeal; not even in the case  of people who exceeded the 180 days                                                               
as  a  direct  result  of  planes  not  flying  because  of  [the                                                               
terrorist attacks of  September 11, 2001].  In  response to Chair                                                               
Gatto,  Ms.  Bitney  briefly  discussed  allowable  absences  for                                                               
students.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
1:29:37 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GATTO announced that HB 65 would be held over.                                                                            

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