Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/01/2003 08:01 AM House STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 183-PERS BENEFITS FOR JUV INSTIT EMPLOYEES                                                                                 
Number 0525                                                                                                                     
CHAIR WEYHRAUCH  announced that  the last  order of  business was                                                               
HOUSE BILL NO. 183, "An  Act relating to retirement contributions                                                               
and  benefits under  the public  employees' retirement  system of                                                               
certain  juvenile detention  employees and  juvenile correctional                                                               
institution employees."                                                                                                         
Number 0610                                                                                                                     
LINDA SYLVESTER, Staff to  Representative Bruce Weyhrauch, Alaska                                                               
State Legislature, introduced HB  183 on behalf of Representative                                                               
Weyhrauch,  sponsor.   She noted  that Alaska's  current statutes                                                               
provide that peace  officers and fire fighters are  entitled to a                                                               
20-year   retirement.     However,   juvenile  justice   officers                                                               
participate  in  a  30-year  retirement  system.    The  proposed                                                               
legislation  would   add  them  to  the   statute  governing  the                                                               
retirement   system  of   peace  officers   and  fire   fighters.                                                               
Ms. Sylvester said it is the belief  of the sponsor and [those in                                                               
the  juvenile justice  system] that  this  group was  erroneously                                                               
left out  of the  20-year retirement  system, and  it is  time to                                                               
correct the inequity.                                                                                                           
MS. SYLVESTER said the Division  of Juvenile Justice provides the                                                               
people  of the  state with  a wide  range of  restorative justice                                                               
services  in  which  juvenile  offenders  are  held  accountable.                                                               
Furthermore, they  work to repair  the harm to those  impacted by                                                               
their crimes, and they provide  offenders and their families with                                                               
opportunities to  develop new skills  in order to  be productive,                                                               
contributing members of  society.  Ms. Sylvester  noted that over                                                               
the past  several years, the legislature  has funded construction                                                               
and  operation  of  new   juvenile  correctional  facilities,  in                                                               
support  of  the  public  safety   component  of  the  division's                                                               
restorative  justice  mission.    However, buildings  in  and  of                                                               
themselves  don't  make a  community  safer;  rather, it  is  the                                                               
people who staff these facilities.  She explained:                                                                              
     This staff  is charged with guarding,  controlling, and                                                                    
     confronting the most hardened  juvenile offenders.  The                                                                    
     employees who  work with juvenile delinquents  face the                                                                    
     same   dangers  and   hazards  as   adult  correctional                                                                    
     officers.   The job title  of these people,  ... "youth                                                                    
     counselors," [belies]  what actually  goes on  in their                                                                    
     field.    The  public mistakenly  believes  that  these                                                                    
     people see  kids in offices  by appointment  to counsel                                                                    
     them.   And nothing  could be  further from  the truth.                                                                    
     These  workers provide  24-hour  correctional care  and                                                                    
     custody related to the  incarceration of people against                                                                    
     their will.                                                                                                                
Number 0783                                                                                                                     
MS. SYLVESTER explained the duties of juvenile officers:                                                                        
     Each day the  youth counselors are involved  in a chain                                                                    
     of custody with other  law enforcement personnel across                                                                    
     the state.   These kids  are brought to  the facilities                                                                    
     in handcuffs in  the back of police  cars; they've been                                                                    
     arrested for  a crime.   They arrive at  the facilities                                                                    
     in an  angry, agitated,  assaultive state.   Oftentimes                                                                    
     they are violent or intoxicated.   The officers turning                                                                    
     these  youths over  to the  youth counselors  are given                                                                    
     ... body armor, guns,  and chemical deterrents in order                                                                    
     to deal with  the offenders.  Youth  counselors are not                                                                    
     given any  of these  things; they  use their  skill and                                                                    
     their  training  and  the  relationships  that  they've                                                                    
     formed with  the kids, in  order to conduct  their duty                                                                    
     These  counselors  also   exchange  custody  of  minors                                                                    
     between facilities.  They  accept custody from juvenile                                                                    
     probation officers  out in the  field who are in  a 20-                                                                    
     year  retirement  system;  oftentimes, they  assist  in                                                                    
     those arrests,  as juvenile probation  officers request                                                                    
     their assistance.  Some of  these [youth] offenders are                                                                    
     charged with very serious and  violent crimes, and they                                                                    
     spend between 30  and ... 90 days  inside the detention                                                                    
     facilities  before   being  transferred  to   an  adult                                                                    
     In addition to custody transfer,  some of the kids stay                                                                    
     in the facilities until they're  20 years old.  In that                                                                    
     situation,  the youth  counselors are  actually dealing                                                                    
     with  housing adults  in their  facilities.   Also,  as                                                                    
     mandated by statute,  youth counselors make independent                                                                    
     arrests in  the community  in pursuit of  the juveniles                                                                    
     that  have absconded  from the  facilities  or from  an                                                                    
     escort to a medical or service transport.                                                                                  
     The  duties of  the youth  counselor position  requires                                                                    
     solid  training  and  excellent  skill  development  in                                                                    
     handling resistive clients.   They have to  have a peak                                                                    
     mental  and  physical  condition;  ...  these  are  ...                                                                    
     qualities that  tend to wane  as we age. ...  These are                                                                    
     the  exact reasons  why the  State of  [Alaska] made  a                                                                    
     policy decision  ... [regarding] the fire  fighters and                                                                    
     police officers  to give them an  opportunity to retire                                                                    
     early,  because  these  jobs  are  very  dangerous  and                                                                    
     hazardous, and  they have a  short lifespan.   And it's                                                                    
     not the  same type of a  deal as sitting at  a desk and                                                                    
     working with your brain.                                                                                                   
Number 1000                                                                                                                     
GUY   BELL,  Director,   Division  of   Retirement  &   Benefits,                                                               
Department  of  Administration,  testified   that  HB  183  would                                                               
convert  juvenile  correctional  officers from  the  "30-and-out"                                                               
system to  the "20-and-out"  retirement system  presently offered                                                               
to  police officers  and  fire  fighters.   It  would grant  that                                                               
service  retroactive  to each  individual's  date  of hire  as  a                                                               
juvenile correctional  officer, he noted, by  allowing him/her to                                                               
claim  that service  but not  pay the  full actuarial  cost.   He                                                               
stated, "The difference  in what they would  have contributed ...                                                               
as peace officers,  versus other employees, is  required of them,                                                               
but that doesn't cover the full  cost to the retirement system of                                                               
making this conversion."                                                                                                        
MR. BELL turned  to the fiscal note, which he  described as self-                                                               
explanatory.   He said  it adds  an annual cost  to the  state of                                                               
just over $1 million; the reason  is included in the fiscal note.                                                               
He  explained,   "The  cost  is  spread   across  state  employee                                                               
salaries, so  we don't show  a dollar  amount in the  columns; we                                                               
show  an asterisk  because it's  a rate  that each  employer will                                                               
need to pay on personal services."                                                                                              
Number 1100                                                                                                                     
CHAIR  WEYHRAUCH  asked  what other  employees  are  now  allowed                                                               
[retirement after] 20 years.                                                                                                    
MR.  BELL  listed  fire   fighters,  police  officers,  probation                                                               
officers, and adult  correctional officers.  He said  there was a                                                               
short period  when fisheries biologists and  certain other Alaska                                                               
Department of Fish  & Game (ADF&G) employees were  in the 20-and-                                                               
out system; however, they were removed in approximately 1983.                                                                   
Number 1158                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ asked about other states.                                                                              
MR. BELL explained that each  [state's] retirement system has its                                                               
own  criteria   for  improved  retirement  benefits   or  earlier                                                               
retirement  provisions, for  example.   He  said  some states  do                                                               
offer peace  officers 20-year retirement,  while some  offer them                                                               
25-year  retirements.   In  terms  of  the definition  of  "peace                                                               
officer," Mr. Bell told Representative  Berkowitz he'd have to do                                                               
some analysis and get back to him regarding that.                                                                               
Number 1202                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE HOLM  asked if the  committee was  considering the                                                               
issue of a 20-year retirement at a 37.5-hour workweek or a 40-                                                                  
hour workweek.                                                                                                                  
MR. BELL said he didn't know.                                                                                                   
Number 1275                                                                                                                     
BERNARD   GATEWOOD,   Alaska   Juvenile   Correctional   Officers                                                               
Association  (AJCOA),   who  works   as  superintendent   of  the                                                               
Fairbanks   Youth  Facility,   Division   of  Juvenile   Justice,                                                               
Department of Health and Social  Services (DHSS), listed his past                                                               
positions  as a  Youth  Counselor I  and II,  which  he said  are                                                               
equivalent to DOC's Correctional  Officer I and II, respectively,                                                               
and  as a  Youth Counselor  III at  the Johnson  Youth Center  in                                                               
Juneau and  in a  facility in  Anchorage.   He mentioned  being a                                                               
unit leader, equivalent to a lieutenant in DOC.                                                                                 
MR. GATEWOOD  said AJCOA is  a group of dedicated  and determined                                                               
juvenile justice workers and supporters  whose sole mission is to                                                               
correct  an  inequity that  has  existed  for  many years:    the                                                               
omission of  youth counselors, unit leaders,  and superintendents                                                               
of  juvenile   institutions  from   the  20-year   peace  officer                                                               
retirement system.  He elaborated:                                                                                              
     It is kind of incredible  to me that we're not included                                                                    
     in the 20-year  system, because we have the  law on our                                                                    
     side through  the statutes.   The statutes  clearly ...                                                                    
     identify  youth  counselors   as  peace  officers  with                                                                    
     respect  to process,  service, and  making arrests  ...                                                                    
     [under] AS  47.12.270.   And the  facts are  that youth                                                                    
     counselors do  the exact same things  that correctional                                                                    
     officers in DOC do.                                                                                                        
     In the statutes, again, [AS]  18.65.290, it talks about                                                                    
     the   definition  of   a  correctional   officer  being                                                                    
     appointed  by the  commissioner  of corrections,  their                                                                    
     duties  being  to   provide  custody,  care,  security,                                                                    
     control,   and  discipline   of   persons  charged   or                                                                    
     convicted of  offenses against the  state.   And that's                                                                    
     the same thing that youth  counselors do, with a slight                                                                    
     difference:   juveniles  are  not  convicted; they  are                                                                    
     "adjudicated,"  and  it's  the   same  thing  as  being                                                                    
     convicted.     And   we  are   not  appointed   by  the                                                                    
     commissioner  of  corrections   because  we're  in  the                                                                    
     Department of Health and Social Services.                                                                                  
     But  you don't  differentiate on  the benefits  between                                                                    
     the commissioner of  DOC and [DHSS]; they  get the same                                                                    
     benefits package.   And that's  what we're  asking for.                                                                    
     It seems  as though  we have  been handcuffed  - excuse                                                                    
     the pun  - by the  term "youth counselor."   [We] think                                                                    
     that's  a  very  misleading  term;  it  doesn't  really                                                                    
     identify  exactly  what  we  do.    We  are,  in  fact,                                                                    
     juvenile  correctional officers.   It  seems as  though                                                                    
     sometimes we  were left out  of the  family inheritance                                                                    
     because we have a different name.                                                                                          
     There's a  large disparity between workers  of the same                                                                    
     duties, just in different departments.   We urge you to                                                                    
     correct this inequity.  Do the  right thing:  put us in                                                                    
     the  20-year  retirement  system, just  like  probation                                                                    
     officers, just  like correctional officers,  whose work                                                                    
     is the same as ours.                                                                                                       
Number 1528                                                                                                                     
MR. HOLM thanked  Mr. Gatewood for a prior tour  he had given him                                                               
through  his facility.   He  asked  Mr. Gatewood  to compare  the                                                               
threat involved with youths versus adults.                                                                                      
MR.  GATEWOOD said  the threat  that youth  counselors face  on a                                                               
daily basis  is similar to  what the adult  correctional officers                                                               
face and, in some cases, similar  to what a police officer faces.                                                               
For example, kids  come to the facility in  handcuffs, brought by                                                               
police officers or state troopers.   Sometimes they are revved up                                                               
on  drugs,  very  angry,  and  impulsive;  oftentimes,  they  are                                                               
suffering  from mental  illnesses and  don't process  information                                                               
the way  someone else might.   For the  most part, he  said, they                                                               
are unsure of what their future holds.                                                                                          
MR. GATEWOOD told the committee  that when a youth counselor goes                                                               
to  a youth's  room  in  the morning,  he/she  doesn't know  what                                                               
exactly what  [will happen].   He revealed that  youth counselors                                                               
have been struck,  have been the subject of plots  to escape, and                                                               
have received  bodily harm.   He explained that the  kids fashion                                                               
knives  out of  any kind  of sharp  object.   A day  for a  youth                                                               
counselor can be quite dangerous, he concluded.                                                                                 
MR. GATEWOOD said youth counselors who  work on the unit with the                                                               
kids work a 40-hour week; it's  rare for them to have a [Saturday                                                               
and Sunday]  off.  Shifts run  from 7 a.m.  to 3 p.m., 3  p.m. to                                                               
11 p.m., and 11  p.m. to 7 a.m.   He told the  committee that the                                                               
unit leaders and  the superintendents work a 37.5-hour  week.  In                                                               
response  to a  question by  Representative Seaton,  Mr. Gatewood                                                               
clarified  that  those in  the  administrative  portion work  the                                                               
37.5-hour workweek, while  those who work hands-on  with the kids                                                               
work 40-hour weeks.                                                                                                             
Number 1759                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE SEATON  asked how the  job performed by  the youth                                                               
counselors  compares  with  working  at  the  Alaska  Psychiatric                                                               
Institute (API).                                                                                                                
MR. GATEWOOD answered that he doesn't  know, but said a number of                                                               
kids in the youth correctional  facilities have to be transferred                                                               
to  API  for various  reasons.    Reiterating that  the  juvenile                                                               
justice  system sees  a number  of  kids who  suffer from  mental                                                               
illnesses, he said,  "Generally, we try to deal with  them in the                                                               
facilities,   just  through   caring  and   concern  and   humane                                                               
treatment.  But sometimes their  illnesses are just too great for                                                               
us to  deal with and  we do have  to transfer  them to API  for a                                                               
brief respite/evaluation."                                                                                                      
Number 1815                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE LYNN  recalled from being a  [police officer] that                                                               
juveniles  were  often far  more  dangerous  than the  same-sized                                                               
CHAIR WEYHRAUCH  asked the  committee to  consider, as  a policy,                                                               
whether [youth  correctional officers] should be  included in the                                                               
same  category  as  fire  fighters,  probation  officers,  police                                                               
officers, and adult  correctional officers.  He  noted that there                                                               
may  be a  fiscal issue  to  consider later.   [HB  183 was  held                                                               

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