Legislature(2017 - 2018)GRUENBERG 120
04/20/2017 03:00 PM House STATE AFFAIRS
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HB 235-NORTH STAR MEDAL 3:09:58 PM CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS announced that the first order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 235 "An Act creating the North Star Medal." 3:10:26 PM JAKE METCALFE, Executive Director, Public Safety Employees Association (PSEA) Local 803, testified that PSEA Local 803 represents 800 state municipal police department employees working throughout Alaska; membership includes the Alaska State Troopers (AST), Anchorage and Fairbanks airport police officers and firefighters, Alaska Court System (ACS) officers, Alaska deputy fire marshals, and Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau, Fairbanks, Soldotna, Dillingham, and Unalaska police department employees. He mentioned that many PSEA members are trained as Search and Rescue (SAR) professionals. MR. METCALFE relayed that in the past four years, PSEA tragically lost four members in acts of valor and heroism: trooper Tage Toll died in a helicopter accident in March 2013 rescuing a stranded snowmobiler; long time AST troopers Scott Johnson and Gabe Rich were murdered in May 2014 protecting the people of Tanana, Alaska; and Sergeant Allen Brandt of the Fairbanks Police Department (FPD) lost his life in October 2016 protecting the people of Fairbanks. He stated that prior to 2013, PSEA lost other members in similar tragic situations. He said that over time, Alaska has lost many police and fire first responder heroes. MR. METCALFE offered his support for recognizing the bravery and valor of Alaska's lost heroes through the proposed legislation. He asserted that all four officers he mentioned had in common the fact that they ran toward danger to help and protect Alaskans. He maintained that other Alaska peace officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and SAR professionals demonstrate the same duty and responsibility every day. Their acts of bravery, valor, and service for their fellow citizens deserve recognition and honor. He expressed his belief that the proposed legislation would convey that honor to the surviving spouse, the survivors, coworkers, and citizens of Alaska. 3:13:57 PM BRANDY JOHNSON testified that her husband, Scott Johnson, was murdered on May 1, 2014, while in the performance of his job as Sergeant with AST. She shared that after Scott's death, she received many great gifts but was perplexed about how each gift was to help her with her grief. She offered that she came to realize that most of these gifts brought comfort to the givers and some brought comfort to her family; and she became more accepting of the gifts and glad that she was helping other people with their grief. She stated that on the urn with her husband's ashes, sits the Alaska state flag. She said, "These are some of the most cherished items nobody wants to have." She maintained that over time one realizes the thoughtfulness that went into the gifts and honors. MS. JOHNSON stated that the most important action by the state is to take care of the officer's surviving family; it is the fiduciary duty of the state after the ultimate sacrifice. She maintained that if providing the surviving family and/or officer with a medal to recognize that officer's oath and extraordinary efforts on behalf of the State of Alaska brings one small measure of comfort, then she supports the idea. Ms. Johnson offered to recommend a process to the committee and the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety (DPS) on proper presentation of the North Star Medal to next of kin if HB 235 becomes law. 3:16:40 PM CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS, after ascertaining that there was no one else who wished to testify, closed public testimony on HB 235. 3:17:09 PM STEPHANIE GILARDI, Staff, Representative Jonathan Kreiss- Tomkins, Alaska State Legislature, presented Amendment 1, which read: Page 1, line 5, following "officer,": Insert "correctional officer," MS. GILARDI stated that Amendment 1 is a technical amendment being offered by the bill's sponsor upon advice of Legislative Legal and Research Services. She relayed that the intent is to include correctional officers in the group eligible for the North Star Medal. Because correctional officers are included only in the Title 39 definition of peace officers and not in the Title 1 definition of peace officers, the forthcoming amendment would clear up any confusion by listing correctional officers in HB 235, thereby making their inclusion explicit. 3:17:55 PM REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPHSON moved to adopt Amendment 1, labeled 30- LS0816\D.1, Martin, 4/18/17. There being no objection, Amendment 1 was adopted. 3:18:45 PM REPRESENTATIVE TUCK relayed that through contact with the Department of Military & Veterans' Affairs (DMVA) he learned that DMVA has 15 different ways of honoring members of the organized militia of the State of Alaska. He maintained that the proposed legislation would create a "Purple Heart" for state rescuers and first responders. He asked if there was any limitation on the definition of "first responder." 3:20:02 PM MS. GILARDI replied that she understood this group to include law enforcement, SAR, and EMTs but does not know if it includes any individual who might respond. REPRESENTATIVE TUCK referred to the Automatic Identification System (AIS) tracking system described during a [Marine Exchange of Alaska (MXAK)] presentation in the House Special Committee On Arctic Policy (4/20/17). Using this system, a vessel in the vicinity could be notified and come to the rescue of a vessel in distress, even though the rescuing vessel is not the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) or AST. He asked if the committee wanted to put limitations on the definition of a first responder, or if someone coming to the rescue of another ship might be considered a first responder under HB 235. 3:21:00 PM CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS suggested that the definition of "first responder" gives the commissioner of DPS "wiggle room" to include individuals as needed. He pointed out that the Alaska Medal of Heroism has traditionally been awarded to ordinary Alaskans who insert themselves into a situation in which someone is in need; in the past, that has been the appropriate award in such a scenario; however, the commissioner may use his discretion under the proposed legislation. REPRESENTATIVE TUCK relayed a scenario: a car hits a powerline; first responders cannot remove the person from the car until the linemen show up to safely remove the energized line. He expressed his hope that the proposed legislation would include the linemen in the definition of first responders; they are not acting as "Good Samaritans" but it is their job. 3:22:57 PM REPRESENTATIVE BIRCH stated that he supports HB 235. He said his inclination is that the medal would be more directed toward the traditional first responders - firefighters and EMTs - but agrees there should be flexibility for the commissioner of DPS and the governor to use their discretion in choosing the recipient. 3:23:53 PM REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPHSON moved to report HB 235, as amended, out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying zero fiscal note. There being no objection, CSHB 235(STA) was reported out of the House State Affairs Standing Committee.