Legislature(2003 - 2004)

03/02/2004 08:00 AM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 423-TAXICAB DRIVER LIABILITY                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
[Contains discussion of HB 68.]                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
Number 0960                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR WEYHRAUCH  announced that  the next  order of  business was                                                               
HOUSE BILL NO.  423, "An Act relating to  accidents involving the                                                               
vehicle  of  a  person  under   the  influence  of  an  alcoholic                                                               
beverage; and providing for an effective date."                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
Number 0985                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
JIM  SHINE  JR., Staff  to  Representative  Tom Anderson,  Alaska                                                               
State Legislature,  presented HB 423 on  behalf of Representative                                                               
Anderson, sponsor.  Mr. Shine read his testimony as follows:                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
     House Bill 423 is a "Good Samaritan" bill for taxicab                                                                      
     operators who transport intoxicated persons or who                                                                         
     drive an intoxicated person's motor vehicle to their                                                                       
     home or another directed location.  This legislation                                                                       
     would create a deterrent for those who might otherwise                                                                     
     drive impaired if unable to find an alternative method                                                                     
     of transportation.  It grants taxicab companies legal                                                                      
     immunity in the event that an accident occurs, except                                                                      
     in the case of recklessness, gross negligence, or                                                                          
     intentional misconduct.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MR.  SHINE,  in response  to  a  question from  Chair  Weyhrauch,                                                               
confirmed that the order of  committee referral was reversed from                                                               
how  it shows  on the  bill; therefore,  the House  State Affairs                                                               
Standing Committee  is the  first committee  of referral  and the                                                               
House Judiciary Standing  Committee is the second.   He continued                                                               
reading his testimony as follows:                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
     There  are times  when Alaskans  find themselves  in an                                                                    
     "end-of-evening dilemma" - they  are over the .08 blood                                                                    
     alcohol limit and shouldn't drive,  but are worried and                                                                    
     reluctant to leave their car  unattended overnight.  HB                                                                    
     423  resolves  this  dilemma   by  allowing  a  taxicab                                                                    
     operator to  drive an intoxicated  person home  while a                                                                    
     second operator follows them home in their vehicle.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
     This  legislation would  allow  the intoxicated  person                                                                    
     and his or  her vehicle to get home  safely without the                                                                    
     taxicab operator  fearing liability.   HB  423 promotes                                                                    
     responsible behavior  and encourages  people to  do the                                                                    
     right thing and not drive while intoxicated.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
     While  annual alcohol-related  traffic fatalities  have                                                                    
     decreased by  more than  33 percent  over the  past few                                                                    
     decades, the  latest statistics show a  recent increase                                                                    
     with more than 17,400 people  killed and more than half                                                                    
     a million others injured  in alcohol-related crashes in                                                                    
     2002  in the  United  States.   Alaska  had 87  traffic                                                                    
     deaths,  of  which   35  were  alcohol-related,  [which                                                                    
     equated to]  40 percent  in 2002.   The  previous year,                                                                    
     there  were 47  alcohol-related  deaths out  of the  89                                                                    
     deaths, which equated to 53 percent.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
     In  order  for  this  program  to  be  successful,  cab                                                                    
     companies  and  liquor  establishments  must  work  and                                                                    
     communicate   closely.     These  establishments   will                                                                    
     implement  the   following  strategies   and  policies:                                                                    
     Place  signs  near  pay phones,  direct  lines  to  cab                                                                    
     companies,   and  other   conspicuous   areas  of   the                                                                    
     establishment, such  as restrooms and exits;  train the                                                                    
     establishment  staff   on  the  availability   of  this                                                                    
     program  and   how  to  inform  patrons,   and  how  to                                                                    
     implement    the   process;    make   public    service                                                                    
     announcements  at   closing  time  to   help  influence                                                                    
     patrons to  use the program;  pay a portion of  the cab                                                                    
     fare  cost agreed  upon by  establishments and  program                                                                    
     officials;   and   track   program  usage   to   assess                                                                    
     effectiveness to promote and or improve the program.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MR. SHINE noted that the Checker Cab Company in Anchorage has                                                                   
set some guidelines for the program.  He shared those written                                                                   
guidelines, which read as follows [some punctuation changed]:                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
     A minimum of six designated  taxi drivers on duty every                                                                    
     night to be available for this program.                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
     A flat $40 fee per  car delivery made from any licensed                                                                    
     establishment  to  one  destination  in  the  Anchorage                                                                    
     area, for both the patron and his/her vehicle.                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
     Every car delivery  that is done will be  logged into a                                                                    
     logbook  in  the  dispatch  office,   to  ease  in  the                                                                    
     tracking of the  progress of this program  and how well                                                                    
     it is working to benefit the community.                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
     Training of  taxicab drivers and dispatch  employees so                                                                    
     designated  drivers  will  be  able to  cover  the  car                                                                    
     deliveries safely.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
     Promote,  with all  the taxi  drivers'  help, how  this                                                                    
     program is  available to all  customers heading  to any                                                                    
     drinking establishment in the Anchorage  area.  It is a                                                                    
     convenient way  to enjoy all  [licensed] establishments                                                                    
     without worrying  about retrieving  a vehicle  the next                                                                    
     day.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MR. SHINE continued reading his testimony as follows:                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
     This service  will be  free to the  consumer.   The cab                                                                    
     companies  will receive  $40 for  each trip  they make.                                                                    
     It's a  reduced flat  rate for  transportation anywhere                                                                    
     in  the  Anchorage  bowl area.    This  legislation  is                                                                    
     supported  by Mother's  Against  Drunk Drivers  (MADD),                                                                    
     and there is a letter of support in your bill packet.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
     This  bill  is  identical   to  House  Bill  68,  which                                                                    
     unanimously passed  the House  in the  22nd legislature                                                                    
     by a  vote of 37-0.   In the Senate, it  passed through                                                                    
     the  [Senate  Transportation Standing  Committee],  but                                                                    
      stalled in the [Senate Judiciary Standing Committee]                                                                      
     and was never heard.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MR. SHINE noted  that Darwin Biwer was available to  testify.  He                                                               
said  he would  answer questions  from the  committee, but  would                                                               
defer any technical questions to Mr. Biwer.                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
Number 1256                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
DARWIN BIWER, Board Member, Cabaret  Hotel Restaurant & Retailers                                                               
Association (CHARR),  explained the formation of  HB 423, stating                                                               
that it was  a concept brought forth by two  CHARR board members,                                                               
Rod Pfleiger  and John Pattee.   He said that HB  423 was another                                                               
example of  the liquor industry  trying to promote  safe driving;                                                               
CHARR had  supported previous,  similar legislation  that stalled                                                               
in the  Senate.  He said  that HB 423 was  a "housekeeping" bill,                                                               
so  the  liability [insurance]  for  taxicab  companies would  be                                                               
lower.   He  reiterated  that  there would  be  no  costs to  the                                                               
consumer with the passage of HB  423; those costs would be [paid]                                                               
by the liquor companies and [through] donations.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Number 1395                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  HOLM first  complimented  CHARR, specifically  in                                                               
Anchorage, for bringing  forth HB 423.  He indicated  that he had                                                               
witnessed the  successful implementation of a  similar process in                                                               
Canada,  where  a  connection  has   been  made  between  taxicab                                                               
companies and liquor establishments.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  HOLM, noting  that  [drinking and  driving] is  a                                                               
statewide problem,  and HB  423 is  enacting a  statewide policy,                                                               
asked  Mr.  Biwer  how  CHARR  was  interacting  with  the  other                                                               
communities in Alaska.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MR.  BIWER  stated that  there  is  a  pilot program  enacted  in                                                               
Anchorage, and  CHARR wanted to  implement the program,  work the                                                               
bugs  out, and  then  take  it to  other  communities within  the                                                               
state.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE HOLM thanked Mr. Biwer  and stated that he thought                                                               
that  HB 423  was  a very  responsible  thing that  establishment                                                               
owners did to take care of the public.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
Number 1509                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ  asked if there  was a "sunset  date" on                                                               
the Anchorage  pilot program, and  he said, if not,  CHARR should                                                               
think about implementing  one or going statewide  from the start.                                                               
He also asked  who would bear the costs if  there was an accident                                                               
as a result of negligence on the part of a taxi driver.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MR.  BIWER  stated  that  he  wasn't the  person  to  talk  about                                                               
insurance rates, but  he thought that there  was a representative                                                               
from Allstate  Insurance that was  present, who would be  able to                                                               
answer that  question.  He stated  that the purpose of  HB 423 is                                                               
to reduce the  insurance rates for the taxicab  companies to give                                                               
them incentive to participate in the program.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ asked if  there have been any assurances                                                               
from the  insurance companies  that rates will  go down  with the                                                               
passage of HB 423.                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
MR.  BIWER said  that the  rates for  a taxi  would be  somewhere                                                               
around $1000 a month if HB 423 was  not passed.  He cited that as                                                               
one of the reasons that HB  423 was introduced; so rates would go                                                               
down and the pilot program could be implemented.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR WEYHRAUCH cited the earlier  testimony from Mr. Biwer, when                                                               
he said there  would be no costs to the  consumer, and asked what                                                               
costs were involved.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MR. BIWER responded  that the cost would be for  the cab ride and                                                               
the  two  cab  drivers.    He said  that  the  Anchorage  taxicab                                                               
companies have  set a flat  rate of $40, regardless  of distance,                                                               
within the Anchorage bowl area.                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  WEYHRAUCH  asked  for   an  annual  estimate  for                                                               
expenses that would be required industry-wide.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
MR. BIWER said that CHARR was  going to apply for federal grants,                                                               
and has  had financial commitments  from liquor  distributors, so                                                               
there  really  is  no  fiscal  note.    In  response  to  further                                                               
questions, he  stated that many establishments  already bear some                                                               
costs because they pay for cab  rides for their patrons.  He said                                                               
that CHARR felt  that HB 423 was  a better way to  go about doing                                                               
that.   He made  the comment  that this was  a pilot  program and                                                               
CHARR doesn't have all the answers to those questions yet.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Number 1737                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  asked what position Frank  Dahl held in                                                               
CHARR.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MR. BIWER  responded that Mr. Dahl  is on the Board  of Directors                                                               
of Anchorage CHARR.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Number 1800                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE SEATON noted  that in HB 423 there  was no mention                                                               
if  the vehicle  driven already  had insurance.   He  stated that                                                               
this  may  be  a  situation where  [the  legislature]  is  giving                                                               
liability for negligence to a  driver of an uninsured vehicle who                                                               
then gets  into an  accident.   He said that  it would  seem like                                                               
there will be some fallback to  the people who are paying for the                                                               
driver.  He stated that he  didn't think that the legislature was                                                               
to the point where it would  grant someone total immunity just to                                                               
get  an intoxicated  person's car  home.   He stated  that it  is                                                               
risking  a victims  injuries without  someone being  liable.   He                                                               
asked Mr. Biwer  to think about that and address  that issue when                                                               
the committee next discusses HB 423.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
[HB 423 was heard and held.]                                                                                                    

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