Legislature(2015 - 2016)CAPITOL 106
03/24/2015 08:00 AM House STATE AFFAIRS
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HB 77-DISABILITY:ID/LICENSE AND TRAINING RQMTS. 8:06:43 AM CHAIR LYNN announced that the first order of business was HOUSE BILL NO. 77, "An Act relating to training regarding disabilities for police officers, probation officers, parole officers, correctional officers, and village public safety officers; relating to guidelines for drivers when encountering or being stopped by a peace officer; relating to driver's license examinations; and relating to a voluntary disability designation on a state identification card and a driver's license." 8:06:56 AM REPRESENTATIVE STEVE THOMPSON, Alaska State Legislature, as prime sponsor, introduced HB 77, and announced that Jane Pierson would present the proposed legislation. 8:07:15 AM JANE PIERSON, Staff, Representative Steve Thompson, Alaska State Legislature, presented HB 77 on behalf of Representative Thompson, prime sponsor. She stated that the goal of HB 77 was to improve communication between law enforcement professionals and those in other agencies, who may interact with people who have no apparent disabilities. She said disabilities that are not apparent to others include the following conditions: intellectual disability, traumatic brain injury, mental health conditions, epilepsy, hearing impairment, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), autism, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). MS. PIERSON said there were three components to HB 77. The first was in regard to identification. She explained that on a voluntary basis, a person with a disability could get a marker on his/her license that would discretely inform officials of the disability. It would require a letter from a doctor or nurse to qualify for such a marker on the license. The next component was training, which [would be developed by] the Alaska Police Standards Council (APSC). Ms. Pierson noted that she had met with Kelly Alzaharna, the executive director of the council, who had suggested that any changes to police standards would be better placed in regulation, rather than statute. REPRESENTATIVE STUTES asked for clarification. 8:09:23 AM MS. PIERSON noted that the language on page 2, lines 8-13, of HB 77, described the curriculum requirements, and Ms. Alzaharna had told her that the reason the requirements would be better outlined in regulation, was that if they were in statute, they could grow to be unmanageable. She said the bill sponsor was working on an amendment to address the issue. 8:10:06 AM MS. PIERSON said most people did not know the proper protocol to follow if they were pulled over by an officer. The third component of HB 77 would propose that the basic protocol was written in the driver manual and test. Ms. Pierson said she thought [the curriculum requirements] should be in regulation, as Ms. Alzaharna had recommended. MS. PIERSON stated that sometimes people with disabilities tried to hide them, pretended to understand their rights, did not understand or hear commands, were overwhelmed with the presence of authority, or had trouble processing or remembering information. She said the proposed legislation would bring awareness to the fact that the first interaction a person had with a peace officer may generate the outcome of the entire conversation. Further, it would give people with hidden disabilities a voice. 8:11:53 AM REPRESENTATIVE THOMPSON relayed that the idea for the proposed legislation came from people who shared stories about individuals who had been stopped by a police officer and handcuffed for being intoxicated, when the individuals actually were disabled. He said if the officer had had proper training, he would have been able to figure out what was really occurring. CHAIR LYNN asked if there would be any method by which the proposed marker on the disabled person's driver's license could link to a database that would inform the officer of the specific disability. MS. PIERSON answered that she thought the fiscal note that would accompany such technology would "be enough to sink the bill"; however, she ventured the technology could be added further along in time. She indicated that the proposed legislation, as written, would [provide a marker on the license], which would start the conversation between the officer and the individual, regarding the individual's disability. In response to a follow- up question, she said the sponsor was not considering coding the disabilities, but rather to offer a more universal symbol on the license indicating a person with a hidden disability. CHAIR LYNN asked if, under HB 77, those individuals with hidden disabilities would be able to go to the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for a new license. MS. PIERSON answered that they could. She continued, "There is a $5 fee if you are getting a new license. Other than that, as long as they have a correct letter from their doctor, they could." 8:14:37 AM REPRESENTATIVE STUTES suggested that the requirement for the letter should omit the nurse and add a physician assistant (PA) instead. She opined that HB 77 was "a great bill." She indicated she knew about a situation where a person with a hidden disability not only got put in handcuffs, but was also Tasered. 8:15:41 AM MS. PIERSON directed attention to page 3, lines 6-7, which read as follows: To receive the designation, the person shall provide proof of the disability from a person licensed as a physician or physician assistant under AS 08.64, as an advanced nurse practitioner under AS 08.68, or as a licensed psychologist under AS 08.86. MS. PIERSON, in response to Chair Lynn, said a psychiatrist would be included because he/she was a medical doctor. 8:16:33 AM REPRESENTATIVE VAZQUEZ determined that the aforementioned language on page 3, lines 6-7, aligned with language on page 4, lines 25-28. 8:17:13 AM REPRESENTATIVE THOMPSON related that some people with hidden disabilities did not want those disabilities pointed out; therefore, he emphasized the voluntary nature of the proposal to have the indication on a driver's license. CHAIR LYNN pointed out that the indicator on the driver's license would be visible to other people who asked to see a license, such as airport security or a person selling alcohol. REPRESENTATIVE THOMPSON responded that was correct. 8:17:52 AM CHAIR LYNN offered his understanding that the bill sponsor wished to return to the committee with a committee substitute. REPRESENTATIVE THOMPSON confirmed that was correct. 8:18:04 AM REPRESENTATIVE KELLER observed that the fiscal note mentioned there would be some modifications to the manual published by the DMV, and he asked what those modifications would be. MS. PIERSON said the modification would be the aforementioned list of protocol regarding how to act when approached by a police officer. She indicated that since the DMV revised the manual every year, the addition of the proposed language would cost the state nothing. 8:18:41 AM REPRESENTATIVE VAZQUEZ said she had spoken to the commissioner and deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Safety (DPS), and they both said they thought the proposed legislation would be "reasonable to implement." She said she wanted that in writing for the record. MS. PIERSON stated that was something the sponsor would obtain by working with the APSC. REPRESENTATIVE VAZQUEZ said she also wanted feedback from the DMV. She opined that HB 77 was excellent legislation. She emphasized there was a strong training component, as noted by the bill sponsor in his three-page handout [included in the committee packet] entitled, "Training in recognizing non- apparent disabilities." 8:20:30 AM AMY ERICKSON, Director, Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV), Department of Administration, stated that the division would have no problem implementing HB 77. 8:20:42 AM REPRESENTATIVE STUTES said she presumed that because the indicator on the driver's license would be voluntary, there would be no issue related to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPA). MS. PIERSON indicated that was her understanding, but said she could check. REPRESENTATIVE STUTES recommended doing so. 8:21:25 AM JUANITA WEBB, Wall Busters Advocacy Group ("Wall Busters"), began her testimony by relating that Wall Busters advocated for disabled and senior individuals. For example, she said the group was heavily involved with a campaign to get the local fairgrounds paved. She stated that each year Wall Busters held a legislative luncheon to discuss issues with legislators. She indicated that Wall Busters had worked with the legislature to bring forward the legislation to address this issue, which she said extends nationwide. MS. WEBB said [articles entitled, "How Misunderstanding Disability Leads to Police Violence," by David M. Perry and Lawrence Carter-Long, 5/6/14, and "People With Disabilities Half of People Killed by Cops; Disability Rights Groups Protest," by Joyce Chediac, 1/24/15, included in the committee packet] highlighted the outcomes of different situations that had happened throughout the country. She referred to her personal story [in a letter to the bill sponsor, included in the committee packet]. She said she would never have imagined she would [have had an experience that] gave her a better understanding of what some people with disabilities experience. She relayed that her husband was legally blind, and she had experienced people talking to her instead of him or speaking loudly to him. She stated that unless a person was living with a disability, he/she could not fully understand it. MS. WEBB said she thought the proposed legislation boiled down to one thing: education, both for people with disabilities and the people who interact with them. She indicated there may be a situation in which a person with a disability may not be able to communicate with an officer, and the marker on the card, along with the training of the officer in what to do in such a situation, would bring about a better outcome. She thanked the bill sponsor. 8:25:11 AM MS. WEBB referred again to [the article by Joyce Chediac], and she read [a portion of the final paragraph], which she said summed up her beliefs. It read as follows: As a member of a community that supports justice and inclusion, we do not have the luxury to stand by when injustice is blatantly taking place in any form, nor should we be satisfied to wait for other communities to ask for our help. Civil rights, respect and justice are due to all. 8:25:44 AM CHAIR LYNN remarked that getting pulled over by an officer could render someone "semi-traumatized," and he ventured that the reaction for someone with a disability could be exponentially greater. 8:26:09 AM PATRICK REINHART, Director, Governor's Council on Disabilities and Special Education, testified that the council had fully vetted the issues related to HB 77 and fully supported the proposed legislation for its intent to train people with disabilities how to act when pulled over by an officer and to train officers how they should interact with people with disabilities. Further, he said the fact that having a marker on the license would be voluntary would make HB 77 more palatable for some. CHAIR LYNN talked about the importance of everyone learning what to do when an officer stops his/her vehicle. He indicated he would encourage people to get out their driver's license and place both hands on the steering wheel before the officer approaches the vehicle. He stated that it was dangerous for officers when they pulled people over because they never know who was going to be in the vehicle. He said there were thousands of cases that illustrated that. 8:27:58 AM ARTHUR DELAUNE, Member, Wall Busters Advocacy Group ("Wall Busters"), expressed his appreciation for the work of the sponsor's office on HB 77. He addressed previously asked questions. First, he said it was not the intent of HB 77 to allow an officer to recognize a disability through a database. He explained that linking a marker on a license to a name and personal information would be a violation of HIPA. He stated that the entire purpose of the proposed legislation was to train officers how to treat everyone respectfully, especially those with hidden disabilities. The marker on the driver's license would allow the officer to recognize that the person had a disability and, because of the training, he/she would be able to ask appropriate questions. It would be up to the individual to disclose what the disability was and what accommodations he/she might need in order to create a safe interaction. He said several years ago concern was expressed that this type of legislation may make it more dangerous for the police officer, but he said that "absolutely is not the intent of the bill." He said the police officer would ensure a safe traffic stop before looking at the driver's license. He confirmed that the proposed legislation would not violate HIPA regulations. He said it was the person's right to disclose a disability, and if he/she did so, it would be helpful for both parties involved. 8:30:15 AM MR. DELAUNE said he had two sons diagnosed with FASD, one of which had an encounter with law enforcement a few years ago. He said one of the traits of someone with FASD was that he/she wanted to please the person with whom they were interacting. He said he had first-hand knowledge that his son was giving answers to the police officer in order to please the authority, but he "did not understand what he was giving to the officer," which resulted in his being arrested. He said there are many stories nationwide about people who have had bad encounters with police officers, and he did not think many people did not realize what an issue this was, because there had been articles about law enforcement "maybe overreacting to situations." He said the intent of HB 77 was to train officers not to overreact, but to use de-escalation techniques in order to diffuse the situation. He said he had been working most of the summer with the various police agencies that would be involved. He said under HB 77, the training would be held at academies in Sitka, Fairbanks, and Anchorage. He said the academies in Anchorage and Fairbanks had been using crisis intervention training, and the training program was due for revamping in April 2015. He indicated that the same standardized training would be used on all Alaska's police force, and the component of the training from HB 77 would create safe practices that would positively affect everyone - not only those with disabilities. 8:32:51 AM KELLY ALZAHARNA, Director, Alaska Police Standards Council (APSC), Department of Public Safety (DPS), stated that the division was supportive of the training, but thought that it should be set up in regulation rather than in statute. She confirmed that all three police academies and the correctional academy in Alaska "include some form of this training at this point." She stated, "The council has been working, over the last year, through a committee, to revise the section in our regulations that specifies what training goes into each of the academy curriculum, and this is where we feel we would like to have this type of training specified." CHAIR LYNN announced his intent to co-sponsor the proposed legislation. 8:34:06 AM REBECCA TRAYLOR, Member, Wall Busters Advocacy Group ("Wall Busters"), indicated that people with disabilities had come to the group with stories of being mistreated by police. She talked about the importance of being treated respectfully, and said some police, parole, probation, and corrections officers have trouble recognizing that a person had a disability; therefore, training would help in that recognition and teach the proper treatment of those with disabilities. She stated she supported HB 77 because of the proposed training for officers. She said Wall Busters Advocacy Group believed that the proposed legislation would reduce conflict between individuals with disabilities and law enforcement, which would "make these encounters safer for all the parties involved." 8:36:56 AM MS. TRAYLOR relayed a story of a friend and colleague in Wall Busters who was experiencing mental health issues. She said police entered the woman's home and arrested her. The woman was incoherent, but not hostile or violent. She wound up in a strait jacket in a holding cell overnight, for 18 hours, until the police could figure out what to do with her. Ms. Traylor said there are not many facilities in Fairbanks that address mental health issues; therefore, the idea was to send the woman to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API) in Anchorage. She offered her understanding that API had become "a dumping ground for people with hidden disabilities or some kind of behavior that's not been determined." She said there was more to the woman's story that she could provide to the committee. She indicated that this type of story was heard in Fairbanks and had become a huge problem nationally. She said in many of the cases in the country that had been in the news, it was later discovered that the person involved had a mental health issue and the incident could have been handled differently. She stated that Wall Busters wanted to be on the forefront of fixing this situation or at least providing easier solutions for both sides. She emphasized that the desired solution would make everyone involved handle each situation better. 8:40:22 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG directed attention to the proposal to "create a discrete symbol", found on page 3, line 3. He said he hoped that the sponsor would consider that word, because he opined the symbol should be immediately visible. MS. PIERSON responded that there was a current universal symbol. She said the symbol would be like the one that was currently used for veterans, which she said was noticeable. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG suggested the sponsor consider the use of the word "discreet". He explained that he had interpreted it as meaning "subtle" rather than "unique." He then directed attention to a list, which he observed to focus on mental impairment. He said other disabilities that could be hidden were: partial hearing loss, epilepsy, and someone who did not speak English. He said the latter would not usually be called a disability, except it was in an emergency situation. 8:42:52 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG credited Representative Kreiss-Tomkins as having handed him a note that explained that the two meanings of "discreet" and "discrete" were spelled differently. REPRESENTATIVE VAZQUEZ suggested that perhaps there was a better word to use because if there was confusion among the committee, there could be confusion among the public. CHAIR LYNN announced that he would keep public testimony open on HB 77. CHAIR LYNN announced that HB 77 was held over.