Legislature(2009 - 2010)CAPITOL 17

02/17/2009 01:00 PM House TRANSPORTATION

Download Mp3. <- Right click and save file as

Audio Topic
01:10:54 PM Start
01:11:00 PM HB114
02:04:09 PM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Heard & Held; Assigned to Subcommittee
HB 114-USE STATE TRANS FACILITY FOR DISASTER AID                                                                              
1:11:00 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR WILSON announced  that the only order of  business would be                                                               
HOUSE BILL  NO. 114,  "An Act relating  to availability  of state                                                               
transportation  facilities  and   state-owned  or  state-operated                                                               
transportation modes  for delivering  compassionate aid  during a                                                               
disaster emergency."                                                                                                            
1:12:17 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  JAY  RAMRAS,   Alaska  State  Legislature,  prime                                                               
sponsor of  HB 114, stated that  he would be available  to answer                                                               
questions, but his staff, Dana Strommen, will present the bill.                                                                 
1:12:55 PM                                                                                                                    
DANA  STROMMEN, Staff,  Representative Jay  Ramras, Alaska  State                                                               
Legislature,   testified  on   behalf  of   the  prime   sponsor,                                                               
Representative Ramras  of HB  114.  She  explained the  reason to                                                               
add   "compassionate  aid"   by  state-owned   or  state-operated                                                               
transportation modes  during a disaster  emergency.   She related                                                               
that  during the  initial week  of the  legislative session,  the                                                               
village of  Emmonak circulated  a plea for  help since  very high                                                               
food  and  fuel  costs  forced  some to  make  a  choice  between                                                               
purchasing  food  and  heating  fuel.    She  offered  that  some                                                               
churches  such  as  Zion Lutheran  Church  and  other  nonprofits                                                               
collected over  1,000 pounds of  food for the village  in Western                                                               
Alaska.  However, an issue  arose with transportation costs which                                                               
meant about 30  to 40 percent of the cash  donations raised would                                                               
be needed to transport food to  the village.  She remarked that a                                                               
can of Crisco  shortening cost $18 in the village.   Ms. Strommen                                                               
reiterated that  the organizations  would have to  sacrifice some                                                               
funds for transportation costs.                                                                                                 
MS. STROMMEN received overwhelming  support from an outpouring of                                                               
private donations  and relief  nationwide.   Thus, Representative                                                               
Ramras  spearheaded  raising  over  4,000 pounds  for  Kotlik,  a                                                               
village northeast of Emmonak.   Subsequently, donations have been                                                               
collected for  11 villages facing  similar circumstances.   These                                                               
villages  are targeted  since  the  tribal councils  specifically                                                               
wrote  to  the  Department  of Commerce,  Community,  &  Economic                                                               
Development  (DCCED)  to  request recognition  for  an  "economic                                                               
disaster" which  is still pending.   Currently, many  private and                                                               
faith-based organizations in Fairbanks  and Anchorage are working                                                               
to provide  food for 11  villages.  The purpose  of HB 114  is to                                                               
allow the  state to aid  in transportation through  agencies such                                                               
as  the Department  of  Public Safety  (DPS),  which assisted  in                                                               
transporting  over 4,000  pounds of  food to  Kotlik in  the past                                                               
several weeks.                                                                                                                  
MS.  STROMMEN  reiterated that  this  bill  will allow  nonprofit                                                               
organizations to donate the entire  amount of the relief to those                                                               
who  need  it.    This  bill also  addresses  the  issue  of  the                                                               
necessity  for declaring  a disaster,  since many  transportation                                                               
modes  could  be  used  to  reach out  a  helping  hand  to  make                                                               
donations during times of imminent economic disaster.                                                                           
1:17:04 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON recalled an  article in an Anchorage paper                                                               
during  the 1980s  in which  villagers could  not hunt  since the                                                               
caribou  migration   was  significantly  delayed.     He  further                                                               
recalled that  the state  flew in  the meat.   He inquired  as to                                                               
whether this bill is needed or what has changed since 1980.                                                                     
MS.  STROMMEN responded  that the  DCCED sends  people to  assess                                                               
situations prior  to declaring an  economic disaster.   This bill                                                               
could  work in  tandem  with  the DCCED  to  provide  a means  to                                                               
initially help people prior to  the protocol steps being taken to                                                               
declare a disaster.                                                                                                             
REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON  maintained his concern that  the bill may                                                               
not be  necessary since  the state  previously used  Alaska State                                                               
Trooper aircraft to fly meat between villages.                                                                                  
1:19:09 PM                                                                                                                    
The committee took an at-ease from 1:19 p.m. to 1:20 p.m.                                                                       
1:20:08 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  RAMRAS answered  that he  cannot explain  why the                                                               
state is  not addressing the need  in Western Alaska.   He opined                                                               
that it  troubles him deeply.   He related  that he and  a member                                                               
from  the other  body  flew  to Western  Alaska.    He said,  "It                                                               
saddens  me  greatly."    He explained  he  has  personally  been                                                               
involved  in anti-hunger  relief in  his community  for 12  to 15                                                               
years,  raising one  million  pounds of  food  for the  Fairbanks                                                               
Community Food Bank.                                                                                                            
REPRESENTATIVE  RAMRAS related  that he  considers hunger  as the                                                               
lowest common  denominator next to  personal safety.   He related                                                               
that no  one can  afford to  buy the  food in  the villages.   He                                                               
opined that  is the same  reason that  food banks are  located in                                                               
urban  areas.   He  related that  the working  poor,  or in  this                                                               
instance a large cross section  of the community cannot afford to                                                               
purchase food.   He remarked  that a  three pound can  of Crisco,                                                               
which sells  for $5  in Juneau sells  for $9 in  Nome and  $18 in                                                               
rural Alaska.   He stated  that eggs cost  $25 a dozen  and other                                                               
staple items such as flour and  milk are not affordable.  He said                                                               
that this  goes right to the  dignity of people in  rural Alaska.                                                               
He questioned  how strong  our society is  if rural  Alaskans are                                                               
not treated with the same measure  of dignity that is afforded in                                                               
our urban districts.                                                                                                            
1:22:33 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  JOHNSON applauded  the  work that  Representative                                                               
Ramras has done to address hunger.   He inquired as to whether he                                                               
could explain what has changed in the past 20 years.                                                                            
REPRESENTATIVE   RAMRAS  related   his  understanding   that  the                                                               
legislature tightened up the  parameters for declaring disasters.                                                               
He  recalled  that the  parameter  for  declaring a  disaster  is                                                               
currently related to  the federal level of income,  which was set                                                               
at $24,000.   He indicated that the average per  capita income in                                                               
Western Alaska  is $35,000  per person.   However,  he emphasized                                                               
that  when  a household  is  paying  $600 for  electricity,  with                                                               
heating costs  for a 1,000 square  foot home in excess  of $1,000                                                               
per  month,  but sell  salmon  to  generate  income, that  it  is                                                               
difficult  to survive.    He said,  "It's hard  out  there."   He                                                               
related  that  Lynden,  Alaska  Airlines,  and  DPS  collectively                                                               
transported 4,465  pounds of food  from Fairbanks  grocery stores                                                               
to  Kotlik.    He  mentioned  that  of  30  members  who  greeted                                                               
Representative Ramras  and their  senator during a  recent visit,                                                               
that  everyone acknowledged  that  they received  the  food.   He                                                               
said, "It was humbling."                                                                                                        
1:25:12 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  JOHANSEN   referred  to  the  bill   title  which                                                               
includes  the  language,  "during  a  disaster  emergency."    He                                                               
inquired as to whether the  governor has declared this a disaster                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE  RAMRAS answered  no,  that the  governor has  not                                                               
declared the area a disaster.                                                                                                   
1:26:10 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  JOHANSEN also  commended Representative  Ramras's                                                               
work to provide food  for the hungry.  He referred  to on page 2,                                                               
paragraph (12), to the new language  in the bill.  He inquired as                                                               
to whether  the new language in  the bill is still  not available                                                               
if an emergency is not declared by the governor.                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  RAMRAS said  that raises  an excellent  issue and                                                               
stated that  his goal was  to provide  a lesser remedy  that does                                                               
not  "waterfall  cash  assets   into  a  community"  but  instead                                                               
triggers  assets  of state  transportation.    He indicated  that                                                               
without the  new provision  to AS 26.23.020  (12), that  the only                                                               
remedy  left to  the  governor is  to provide  a  half a  million                                                               
dollars  of economic  aid into  a community.   He  reiterated his                                                               
goal was  to provide a lesser  degree of aid to  communities that                                                               
would not require that a disaster be declared.                                                                                  
1:27:45 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR WILSON  advised that  Mr. Mitchell  from the  Department of                                                               
Law is available on line.                                                                                                       
1:27:55 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE JOHANSEN  referred to  page 1, lines  13-14, which                                                               
states a  governor may use  all available resources of  the state                                                               
government,   which   he   said   he   assumed   includes   state                                                               
transportation.       He   acknowledged   the   high    cost   of                                                               
transportation, but  inquired as to whether  augmenting funds, is                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE  RAMRAS  offered  his belief  that  a  declaration                                                               
could have  been declared.   However, this  bill would  address a                                                               
narrower provision of  AS 26.23.020, to allow a  governor to call                                                               
for a declaration of disaster.                                                                                                  
1:29:36 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE DOOGAN  related his  understanding the  reason for                                                               
zero fiscal note is that emergency funds could be used.                                                                         
MCHUGH PIERRE,  Director of Communications;  Legislative Liaison,                                                               
Office of  the Commissioner, Department  of Military  & Veterans'                                                               
Affairs  (DMVA), answered  that the  language gives  the DMVA  an                                                               
emphasis  and direction  on how  to proceed  when the  department                                                               
responds to emergencies.  He  explained that the change would not                                                               
impact  the  DMVA's  operating  budget.    He  offered  that  the                                                               
Disaster  Relief Fund  is funded  by the  legislature.   When the                                                               
fund reaches a certain threshold  cost, which he said he believes                                                               
is between $500,000  and $1 million, depending  on the situation,                                                               
the DMVA requests additional funds  to accomplish the mission and                                                               
rescue  Alaskans.   He referred  to  page 1,  lines 13-14,  which                                                               
reads "use  all available  resources ..."  is encompassed  in the                                                               
Disaster Relief Fund.                                                                                                           
1:31:46 PM                                                                                                                    
MR. PIERRE, in response to  Representative Johnson, answered that                                                               
a  disaster  declaration does  trigger  and  mobilize the  Alaska                                                               
National Guard, which is a  component of the U.S. National Guard.                                                               
Thus, the assets  used are not state assets,  but federal assets.                                                               
Until  a disaster  is  declared, the  DMVA  cannot use  material,                                                               
training,  and   manpower  unless   it  reimburses   the  federal                                                               
government.   Once a  disaster is  declared, those  resources are                                                               
available, he stated.                                                                                                           
1:32:44 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  referred to  AS 26.23.020,  and related                                                               
his  understanding that  normally,  the governor  must declare  a                                                               
disaster,  which  is defined  in  AS  26.23.900(2), as  basically                                                               
natural  disasters,  but  would not  include  economic  disaster,                                                               
which  is  specifically  not  included.   He  indicated  that  AS                                                               
26.23.020  (h)  uses the  term  "incident"  instead of  disaster.                                                               
However, he said the term "incident"  is not defined.  He pointed                                                               
out  that  some  members  have  questions  whether  the  bill  is                                                               
necessary since  it may have been  solved in practice in  1980 or                                                               
may be covered.  He opined  that the term "economic emergency" is                                                               
not  mentioned.    He surmised  that  defining  "incident"  could                                                               
include a reference to economic emergencies.                                                                                    
MR. PIERRE  responded by initially  confirming that the  DMVA and                                                               
the  administration  support  HB  114.     He  related  that  the                                                               
administration views the bill as  an opportunity to add statutory                                                               
references that  could help  people in  times of  emergency other                                                               
than  "throwing money  at  it"  or using  only  state assets  for                                                               
relief.   He stated that people  in the community are  willing to                                                               
provide assistance  to others  during an  emergency.   He offered                                                               
support for the language in the bill and the sponsor's efforts.                                                                 
1:36:48 PM                                                                                                                    
MIKE   MITCHELL,  Senior   Assistant   Attorney  General,   Civil                                                               
Division,   Labor  and   State  Affairs   Section  -   Anchorage,                                                               
Department of  Law (DOL), explained  that he represents  the DMVA                                                               
during disasters  and that  he has held  his position  since mid-                                                               
2000.   He pointed  out the way  the bill is  written is  that it                                                               
would add to the list  of extraordinary gubernatorial powers that                                                               
apply in the  event of a declared disaster.   He reviewed several                                                               
powers,  including  that  it  would allow  the  governor  to  use                                                               
private  property.   He  offered  his belief  that  the power  is                                                               
probably subsumed in existing subsection  (g) paragraph (2) which                                                               
allows the governor  to use all available resources  in the event                                                               
of a declared disaster.                                                                                                         
MR. MITCHELL said  that he agrees with prior  speakers, that this                                                               
applies only in  the event of a declared disaster.   He indicated                                                               
that  the problem  with the  Emmonak situation  is that  a purely                                                               
economic disaster does not meet  the definition of disaster in AS                                                               
26.23.900.    He  remarked  that he  has  recently  reviewed  the                                                               
legislative history  of changes  to that  definition in  1999 and                                                               
2000.    He   opined  that  the  legislature   provided  a  clear                                                               
legislative  history that  the legislature  intended to  restrict                                                               
the governor's  powers to use  extraordinary disaster  powers and                                                               
funding in the event of a  purely economic disaster.  That led to                                                               
changes in the definition which  resulted in the list of specific                                                               
incidents  in which  a disaster  declaration can  be issued.   He                                                               
reiterated that  the definition creates  the limitation  that has                                                               
arisen with respect to a response  in Western Alaska.  He offered                                                               
his belief that adding paragraph (12)  to the list would not give                                                               
governor  authority  to   utilize  the  transportation  resources                                                               
unless a disaster can be declared under AS 26.23.900.                                                                           
1:40:05 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR WILSON  recalled the City  and Borough of Juneau  (CBJ) had                                                               
an energy crisis and that the  CBJ Mayor asked to have a disaster                                                               
declared.    She further  recalled  that  did  not happen.    She                                                               
inquired as  to whether  the decision was  based on  economics or                                                               
for another reason.                                                                                                             
MR. MITCHELL said  he did not know.  He  related that the problem                                                               
was due to  an avalanche, which is within the  list that could be                                                               
used to declare a disaster.                                                                                                     
1:41:22 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG related  his understanding  that Alaska                                                               
could benefit with the ability  to declare an economic emergency.                                                               
He  inquired as  to whether  language should  be added  to define                                                               
economic emergency.                                                                                                             
MR.  MITCHELL agreed  that he  would be  available to  assist the                                                               
Legislative  Council, since  that committee  was involved  in the                                                               
1999 and 2000 changes.                                                                                                          
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG  offered  his  services  to  assist  in                                                               
drafting a definition,  if the committee agreed that  it would be                                                               
useful   to  add   a  definition.     He   opined  that   several                                                               
circumstances and  communities that could have  benefitted from a                                                               
definition, such as last year's avalanche in Juneau.                                                                            
1:43:26 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE JOHANSEN  pointed out  that he  is a  cosponsor of                                                               
the  bill.   He  inquired  as to  whether  the  prime sponsor  is                                                               
interested in adding a definition to the bill.                                                                                  
REPRESENTATIVE RAMRAS agreed  that it would be  an enhancement to                                                               
the HB 114  to include a definition for "incident"  which he said                                                               
he believes  will addresses a weakness  in the bill.   He further                                                               
noted that doing so could  create a wedge without "water falling"                                                               
cash into communities.   He reiterated the  bill's purpose, which                                                               
is  to   enhance  the  ability  of   nonprofits  and  individuals                                                               
statewide to  assist communities without incurring  the high cost                                                               
of  transportation.   He related  that in  1980, a  mechanism was                                                               
triggered  that  helped  the  villagers  in  rural  Alaska.    He                                                               
indicated that three departments, DPS,  DCCED, and MVA could only                                                               
detail future  lists, but could  not provide acute relief  to the                                                               
"hungry   people"  in   11  communities.     He   emphasized  his                                                               
frustration and promised to articulate this appropriately.                                                                      
1:46:01 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  JOHANSEN inquired  as  to whether  Representative                                                               
Ramras would work on this matter in a non-partisan effort.                                                                      
REPRESENTATIVE DOOGAN  inquired as to whether  the drafters could                                                               
consider changes that would shorten  the bill and not necessitate                                                               
listing the detail.                                                                                                             
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG suggested that  they could confer on the                                                               
1:48:17 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON inquired as  to whether a condition exists                                                               
that would allow funds to  be used for transportation without the                                                               
governor issuing a  declaration of emergency.   He summarized his                                                               
goal would be to provide  transportation solutions but not to use                                                               
any other state expenditures.                                                                                                   
1:49:17 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE   GRUENBERG   inquired   as  to   whether   making                                                               
transportation  funding available  to  nonprofits would  increase                                                               
the  state's  potential for  liability,  relating  that his  goal                                                               
would  be to  provide  assistance but  not  increase the  state's                                                               
MR.  MITCHELL  agreed that  could  be  a  definite concern.    He                                                               
suggested the  committee could work  with the Torts  and Workers'                                                               
Compensation Section to consider any liability.                                                                                 
REPRESENTATIVE  DOOGAN   recalled  that  unless  a   disaster  is                                                               
declared that Alaska  National Guard funding cannot be  used.  He                                                               
offered his belief that transportation  would be limited to state                                                               
aircraft such as the AST aircraft.                                                                                              
MR.  PIERRE agreed.    He indicated  that the  DMVA  is bound  by                                                               
federal and  state law to  use Alaska National Guard  assets only                                                               
once a disaster has been declared.   However, he noted that other                                                               
equipment  is available  such as  Department of  Transportation &                                                               
Public  Facilities  (DOT&PF),  and  AST  ranging  from  boats  to                                                               
MR.  PIERRE, in  response  to  Representative Johnson,  explained                                                               
that the  ANGDA Operation Santa  Claus is a  federally sanctioned                                                               
mission through the U.S. Department  of Defense.  He offered that                                                               
the operation  is a goodwill  mission to villages, which  he said                                                               
is also used as a recruiting tool.                                                                                              
1:53:10 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON  expressed concern and his  belief that it                                                               
is difficult  to justify that  Operation Santa Claus  is elevated                                                               
above  hunger.   He  said  he  appreciated  that the  program  is                                                               
nationally  sanctioned  and  acknowledged  his  participation  by                                                               
wrapping gifts and obtaining donations.                                                                                         
MR.  PIERRE said  he did  not  agree that  the operation  "trumps                                                               
hunger" but  reiterated that  due to state  and federal  law, the                                                               
DMVA  is  prohibited  from  using  equipment  unless  a  disaster                                                               
declaration has been signed.                                                                                                    
1:55:26 PM                                                                                                                    
MR.  MITCHELL, in  response to  Chair Wilson,  responded that  it                                                               
would  not  necessarily  have  an effect  on  federal  law,  with                                                               
respect to the  Alaska National Guard assets.   He explained that                                                               
he is researching  at the federal level whether  ANGDA assets can                                                               
be  used for  an "incident",  in  instances in  which a  governor                                                               
issued  a  proclamation  for  something  less  than  declaring  a                                                               
disaster.   He said, "The long  and short is that  what the state                                                               
can  do within  its  constitutional powers  cannot trump  federal                                                               
1:56:39 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR WILSON clarified  that she was speaking to  the many planes                                                               
throughout the state that would be available.                                                                                   
MR.  MITCHELL  agreed that  it  would  be within  the  governor's                                                               
authority  to use  state assets  in an  emergency, provided  that                                                               
sufficient statutory authority  exists.  He opined  that AS 26.23                                                               
needs  to  be  reviewed  to  determine  if  sufficient  authority                                                               
CHAIR WILSON  inquired as to  whether the governor  currently has                                                               
that power.                                                                                                                     
MR. MITCHELL agreed that the  governor has the authority but only                                                               
during a declared disaster.                                                                                                     
CHAIR  WILSON  emphasized  that   the  committee  will  need  Mr.                                                               
Mitchell's   assistance  to   ensure  that   that  the   bill  is                                                               
appropriately  crafted  to  comply  with the  state  and  federal                                                               
MR. MITCHELL  agreed he  could assist.   However, he  opined that                                                               
the  authority  does not  exist  under  current  law short  of  a                                                               
declared disaster.                                                                                                              
1:58:07 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR WILSON  recalled that  the economic  disaster in  the 1980s                                                               
happened since the caribou not yet  migrated.  She inquired as to                                                               
whether the villagers could hunt.                                                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE RAMRAS  described the situation in  the 11 Western                                                               
Alaska  villages.   He  indicated  that the  fish  runs were  not                                                               
satisfactory.   He  explained that  he held  discussions with  an                                                               
elder from  the community  of Unalukleet  who suggested  that the                                                               
problem  stems from  a  narrowing  of fish  run  from 120,000  to                                                               
20,000 during the  past decade.  He emphasized that  in the past,                                                               
the  state   responded  and   people  found   a  way   to  obtain                                                               
transportation resources.  He offered  his frustration stems from                                                               
the compilation  of lists and  inventories instead  of addressing                                                               
the  acute need.   He  said, "We  seem to  be bound  by a  larger                                                               
bureaucratic Gordian  knot."  He  opined he is trying  to unravel                                                               
the knot, but  that Alaska is now  part of a global  village.  He                                                               
observed that  people might be sick  but wait until they  need to                                                               
emergency   airlifts   simply   because  people   cannot   afford                                                               
preventative health  care services.   He further  emphasized that                                                               
fuel cost  $10 per gallon.   He  related a scenario  during which                                                               
residents  of Kotlik  could not  afford to  travel to  a potlatch                                                               
held in Emmonak, 30  air miles away, but is 60  to 70 miles along                                                               
a winding river.   Thus, it could  cost $60 to $70 to  visit.  He                                                               
recalled a  recent editorial that  discusses these  cultures have                                                               
survived   10,000    years,   yet   are    currently   undergoing                                                               
2:02:56 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  WILSON assigned  HB 114  to a  subcommittee consisting  of                                                               
Representatives  Munoz,  chair,  Gruenberg,  and  Johnson.    She                                                               
recapped that  the subcommittee  would work  with Mr.  Marsh, and                                                               
will report back to the committee.                                                                                              

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
HB114-DMVA-HSEM-2-17-09.pdf HTRA 2/17/2009 1:00:00 PM
HB 114