Legislature(2003 - 2004)
02/25/2004 01:07 PM House RES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 188-BAIL SCHEDULE FOR SKIING VIOLATION CO-CHAIR MASEK announced that the first order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 188, "An Act relating to the authority of the Department of Natural Resources to issue citations for certain skiing violations; relating to establishing a bail schedule for certain skiing violations and to procedures for issuing a citation for a skiing violation." Number 0135 REPRESENTATIVE MIKE HAWKER, Alaska State Legislature, speaking as sponsor, explained that HB 188 was brought forth on behalf of Alaska's skiing industry. He said former Senator [Jay] Kerttula was instrumental in sponsoring and moving a bill called the [Alaska] Ski Safety Act, which defined responsibilities and guidance for the management and operation of ski areas that were developing in the state. He said that particular legislation created some obligations on the part of skiing participants to be safe and prudent, but it didn't compromise the ability to enjoy an aggressive and adventurous sport. However, he said it did provide some "does and don'ts," which are fairly consistent with some prudent practices. Representative Hawker indicated that under the Alaska Ski Safety Act, a skier involved in a collision with another skier, that results in an injury, may not leave the scene [of the accident] except to secure aid. He said it was anticipated that the Alaska Supreme Court would establish a bail schedule - a schedule of fines - for non-felony, non- misdemeanor, and "traffic-ticket type of violations." REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER said the Alaska Supreme Court [determined] that the language wasn't clear enough and a letter in the bill packet from the National Ski Patrol offers a particularly good analysis of the Alaska Supreme Court's view and an explanation of its problem with the creation of the bail schedule. He paraphrased from the letter, which read in part [original punctuation provided]: The Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the language in the original legislation was not specific enough to give them the authority to establish a bail schedule. REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER continued paraphrasing from the last paragraph on page 1 of the letter, which read in part [original punctuation provided]: Administrative Rule 43(a) states: "The Supreme Court will consider adopting a bail forfeiture schedule only when so authorized by statute ...". The Court decided the language in AS 05.45.100(h) is not an adequate authorization. REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER indicated that the intention of the bill is to further fix a piece of excellent legislation and make it work as it was originally intended to. He said part of the original concern was that the authority to have bail schedules only applied to ski operations on land that the state had jurisdiction. He said it wasn't clear that this was to apply to both privately operated facilities and those operated by the state, which Section 1(h) addresses. Number 0710 REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER noted that Section 2 was added to [order the Alaska Supreme Court] to establish a bail schedule, and he explained that the language is consistent with existing statute in which similar bail schedules are authorized in the state for boating violations, fish and game fines, and motor vehicles fines and schedules. REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER noted that it doesn't make a lot of sense in reading the bill, and he remarked, "You've got to go in the context of the law in which it was intended to operate." He concluded that the bill authorizes the Alaska Supreme Court to set up a bail schedule, a schedule of fines for violations of specific provisions of the Alaska Ski Safety Act, and clarifies that the Alaska Ski Safety Act was intended to apply to ski resorts operating on private land throughout the state as well as land owned by the state. Number 0858 REPRESENTATIVE HEINZE asked about money collected from fines. REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER explained that the Alaska Ski Safety Act does not establish a specific fund to get around the dedication prohibitions, so it ultimately becomes "general fund appropriateable money." Number 0914 REPRESENTATIVE WOLF asked if all ski resorts in Alaska have liquor licenses. REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER deferred the question to ski industry members. REPRESENTATIVE WOLF asked about the fiscal note in relation to a peace officer issuing citations. REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER asked which provision involving a peace officer is of concern. REPRESENTATIVE WOLF asked if it would be an expense to the state for peace officers to issue citations. REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER said he thought Representative Wolf was referring to AS 41.21.960. CO-CHAIR DAHLSTROM clarified that the statute in question is listed on page 1, line 10 of the bill. REPRESENTATIVE WOLF said the statute is also listed on page 2, [line 13]. Number 1010 REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER said it is contextual and that a reference to peace officers is not involved in this citation. He said that section is intended strictly to authorize a bail schedule. He explained that the issue would be regarding whether it is applicable under the existing Alaska Ski Safety Act if a DNR employee or an Alaska State Trooper is enforcing violations on state lands. Representative Hawker said in that case, DNR is authorized to empower people who meet its qualifications to issue citations on nonpublic lands. He explained that the violations are not authorized to involve attorneys or additional court time, which is why there is a bail schedule, because [these types of cases] get dispensed very rapidly without the need for legal costs to the state. CO-CHAIR DAHLSTROM said she also had some of these same questions and believes the next committee of referral, the House State Affairs Standing Committee, is the appropriate place for that discussion to take place. Number 1129 REPRESENTATIVE GATTO pointed out that the packet contains three or four pages that deal with AS 05.45.100, "Duties and responsibilities of skiers." He asked a question relating to subsection (c), paragraph (2), regarding the requirement for the ski to be "equipped with a strap or other device capable of stopping the ski should the ski become unattached from the skier". CO-CHAIR DAHLSTROM said she thought it was a valid issue, but it should be addressed in House State Affairs Standing Committee rather than in the House Resources Standing Committee. Number 1242 REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH asked if the liabilities already take into consideration what Representative Hawker is trying to [address with this bill]. REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER explained that this bill does not attempt to rewrite or reconsider the statutory authority that was created in the Alaska Ski Safety Act itself; instead this bill was drafted to deal with a specific problem with implementing the Alaska Ski Safety Act. REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH said he is under the impression that [ski areas are already enforcing the issues being addressed] with this bill. He asked if the ski patrol could issue [citations under the authority of DNR]. REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER remarked: That would be a decision ... made by the commissioner of natural resources [DNR] who ... in self is constrained by the regulations ... that would need to be promulgated to quantify - ... essentially, ... investing that authority within the commissioner ... either to comply with existing regulation or to develop the regulation necessary to (indisc.) ... authorize persons to provide for citations. REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH asked if [the bill would allow citations] to be written on the ski hill for certain violations. REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER replied no. He explained that this bill specifically authorizes the Alaska Supreme Court to create a bail schedule for citations that would be issued under the authority that was provided in the original Alaska Ski Safety Act. REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH said it seems like the [Alaska Ski Safety Act] addressed these [issues]. REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER offered to provide Representative Stepovich with a letter from the Alaska Supreme Court. He said the Alaska Supreme Court has asked [the legislature] to grant it specific authority and it would develop the bail schedule, which was contemplated in the original Act. CO-CHAIR DAHLSTROM asked Representative Hawker to provide the committee with a copy of the letter and to include it in the House State Affairs Standing Committee's bill packets. She said she was positive these concerns will and do need to be addressed. CO-CHAIR MASEK explained that the purpose of the bill is to address technical issues that were not addressed in the [Alaska Ski Safety Act]. She said she thought the intent of the bill is to clarify the statutes in order for the [Alaska Ski Safety Act] to work. She said the courts can't really implement the [Alaska Ski Safety Act] or enforce it unless it is authorized in statute, because the Alaska Supreme Court has determined that there is no clear authorization in statute for such a schedule. Co-Chair Masek called the bill "clean cut," and she said DNR had worked on implementing a bail schedule, which is included in the bill packet. Number 1571 REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH remarked: In respect to people that bring bills before this committee; they want them all to go through. ... I don't know where to address this. ... I am on the resource committee; I'm not on state affairs. ... I just have trouble with the qualifications of those who are going to be able to get these out. I just want it stated for the record. Qualifications for those who are going to give these tickets out on the ski hill and their abilities to assess the skills of the skiers that they're going to give the tickets to. Number 1619 PAUL SWANSON, Area Manager, Eaglecrest Ski Area, City and Borough of Juneau testified. Mr. Swanson paraphrased from the following written testimony, which read [original punctuation provided]: Thank you Madame Chair and Members of the Committee for the opportunity to testify this afternoon in support of HB 188. For the record, my name is Paul Swanson. I am Area Manager of Eaglecrest Ski Area which is owned and operated by the City and Borough of Juneau. When the Alaska Ski Safety Act was enacted in 1994 it clearly identified duties and responsibilities of both the ski area and the skier. However, currently we are unable to fully enforce all provisions due to the fact that the bail schedule as called for in the Act has not been established by the courts. I feel that passage of this bill is needed to support the intent of the Ski Safety Act and reinforce current area operations and safety policies as approved by the Department of Natural Resources. The establishment of the bail schedule will allow us to deal more effectively with violators, such as skiers who enter a closed area and those under the influence of alcohol and controlled substances. It is important to note that the Act does not prohibit skiers from going out of the ski area boundaries - at their own risk. I appreciate your support and am willing to answer any questions you might have. REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH inquired about the number of violations that have occurred at Eaglecrest Ski Area. MR. SWANSON said there were less than 10 instances of people going into closed areas this year. REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH asked if the Eaglecrest Ski Area deals with violations itself. MR. SWANSON said it does at the present time. He explained that the ski area deals with it by revoking skiing privileges or taking the skier's pass for 30 days, which might occur at the end of the day. However, he said there is really no way to keep that person away for 30 days. REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH noted that he would rather pay the fine than have his privileges revoked. He asked if there are a lot of collisions or civil suits against [Eaglecrest Ski Area]. MR. SWANSON remarked, "Not in our case." He said many people would not want to pay the fine, and he felt the [bill] is a better avenue for [the ski industry] to take. Mr. Swanson said he doesn't consider there to be a lot of offenders, but if [violators] had to pay for his or her mistakes, he thought it would be looked at better than the way it is currently being dealt with. REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH said some might argue that it is very expensive to go skiing, but he knows Eaglecrest Ski Area has good prices. MR. SWANSON replied, "We're not making any money." REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH related his belief that $50 is the most someone in Alaska would pay to go skiing, which is a lot for one day. He offered his belief that $50 citations can still be issued under current statute, and said he would like to see [how many citations have been issued thus far]. CO-CHAIR DAHLSTROM asked Representative Hawker to provide the committee with that information. REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER said existing circumstance allows an operator to issue a $50 maximum fine. He said the bill packet contains an additional letter offered by the Eaglecrest Ski Area that identified the original DNR proposed bail schedule, which identified the priorities where DNR wishes to increment the individual fines beyond the $50 maximum. He explained that the Alaska Supreme Court was asked to authorize a bail schedule to put $150 for skiing on a closed slope or trail, $100 for riding lifts or skiing under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and $150 for a skier having a hit and run accident. Representative Hawker said the point of the bail schedule is to increase a few of these violation charges. Number 2047 LARRY DANIELS, Alyeska Ski Resort, testified. Mr. Daniels stated his support for HB 188 as proposed. He explained that he was involved in the original legislation and in promoting it through the legislature. Mr. Daniels said this bill just perfects the original Alaska Ski Safety Act of 1994, and to finish the intent of the original legislation, which did not provide that specific authorization to the Alaska Supreme Court to establish a bail schedule. He explained that on occasion there are problems with skiers colliding with each other and in some cases it can result in a fairly serious injury. Currently, he said there is no deterrent from that person running away from the accident. He said even if that person is identified and caught, the process that would have to be gone through to involve the Alaska State Troopers and using assault-type processes have, to this point in time, been essentially non- effective because it takes so much investigative time and a large degree of effort on behalf of the district attorney to process. He said Alyeska Ski Resort has only had one situation like that, but currently there is no deterrent. MR. DANIELS said another example is of people skiing in an area that is exposed to avalanche conditions, and not only do those people expose themselves to danger but they potentially expose other skiers and the ski patrol, if a rescue is needed. He compared it to having speed limits on a highway and not having the ability to issue citations for driving violations. He said he didn't think that enacting HB 188 would increase the number of tickets being written. He remarked, "Once the deterrent is there, and a few were written - in only the most egregious of cases - then I think that we could expect to see some significant reduction in those kinds of issues." Number 2231 REPRESENTATIVE GUTTENBERG turned attention to page 1, line 11, and he asked about the jurisdictional change and the larger affect of the change. Number 2293 RICK THOMPSON, Regional Land Manager, Southcentral Region Office, Division of Mining, Land and Water, Department of Natural Resources, testified. Mr. Thompson said his belief is [the bill] changes the jurisdiction from ski areas on state owned land to any ski area operator in the state. REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER noted that the bill packet contains a letter from the commissioner of DNR. He explained that the first paragraph of the letter does address that the purpose of this is to provide "the authority to establish bail schedules for ski safety act violations and that all ski areas - those on state land and those on other lands - be treated equally in regards to enforcement of these violations." He said it is a clarifying point. REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH asked [Mr. Thompson] how he envisioned this bill working and who would be [issuing the citations]. MR. THOMPSON said DNR is looking forward to the passage of this bill. He explained that the ski patrol would investigate the incident, write a report, and pass on the report to DNR. He said DNR employees appointed to work on that project would be issuing any [citations]. He said typically, DNR may only be issuing about three [citations] per year. Mr. Thompson noted that there was a high of nine [citations] issued one year, but there are zero [citations] issued many years. He said the violations are typically pretty serious when they do occur. Number 2433 REPRESENTATIVE GATTO thanked Mr. Swanson for accommodating his 13 year-old son last year during a one-day visit snowboarding at Eaglecrest Ski Area. Number 2455 REPRESENTATIVE HEINZE moved to report HB 188 out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes. There being no objection, HB 188 was reported from the House Resources Standing Committee.