Legislature(2015 - 2016)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)


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Heard & Held
Heard & Held
            SB 43-IMMUNITY FOR FIRE DEPT. & MEMBERS                                                                         
CHAIR BISHOP announced the consideration of SB 43.                                                                              
3:45:56 PM                                                                                                                    
JORDAN  SHILLING,  Staff,  Senator  John  Coghill,  Alaska  State                                                               
Legislature,  Juneau, Alaska,  explained that  SB 43  addresses a                                                               
priority issue  that came to  Senator Coghill's  attention during                                                               
the interim from  the Fairbanks North Star  Borough. He specified                                                               
that  SB  43 addresses  an  inequity  in the  statutes  regarding                                                               
immunity. He said currently there  is some immunity given to fire                                                               
departments  and their  members in  statute; in  particular, that                                                               
immunity applies  to employees of municipal  fire departments and                                                               
municipal  departments themselves.  He  specified that  providing                                                               
government immunity is fairly common  and added that most, if not                                                               
all states,  give immunity  to the staff  of fire  departments as                                                               
well as the  fire departments themselves because  there are major                                                               
risks in running a fire department.                                                                                             
3:47:57 PM                                                                                                                    
MR.  SHILLING  said  the  bill  addresses  AS  09.65.070(c),  the                                                               
section applies  to staff immunity  of municipally  operated fire                                                               
departments. He  specified that the  concern pertains to  the way                                                               
the  statute was  written where  immunity does  not apply  to the                                                               
staff of  the types of  departments that Fairbanks has  which are                                                               
contract  departments. He  explained that  the statute  came into                                                               
effect in 1975 as SB 257.  He revealed that SB 257 was introduced                                                               
by the  Juneau Volunteer  Fire Department  and patterned  after a                                                               
Delaware statute. He stated that  the problem with the statute is                                                               
attributed to  the language that  seems to leave  out departments                                                               
that  contract out  with  local governments.  He  noted that  the                                                               
committee's   intent  in   1975   was  hard   to  delineate.   He                                                               
communicated  that the  bill's sponsor  and  the Fairbanks  North                                                               
Star Borough feel strongly that  the liability protections should                                                               
not be  exclusive to  employees of  fire departments  operated by                                                               
municipalities, but should also be  extended to include the staff                                                               
of  all fire  departments  that have  a contractual  relationship                                                               
with  local government.  He  added that  the  bill also  provides                                                               
immunity to  contracted fire departments, the  entity itself, not                                                               
just  the  staff, and  it  adds  to  the existing  immunity  that                                                               
municipal  fire departments  already  have in  subsection (d)  of                                                               
this section of law.                                                                                                            
SENATOR STEDMAN asked if there  has been any litigation since the                                                               
statute came into effect in 1977.                                                                                               
MR. SHILLING answered that he is  aware of one case that occurred                                                               
in Fairbanks.                                                                                                                   
3:51:06 PM                                                                                                                    
JILL  DOLAN, Assistant  Borough  Attorney,  Fairbanks North  Star                                                               
Borough,  Fairbanks, Alaska,  confirmed that  there was  one case                                                               
that went to  the Alaska Supreme Court that brought  the issue to                                                               
the forefront. She specified that  the case was different because                                                               
at  the time,  the fire  chiefs of  the involved  fire department                                                               
were  municipal   employees  and  were  extended   immunity.  She                                                               
revealed that due to the  current situation where fire chiefs are                                                               
actually employees of the nonprofits  that the North Star Borough                                                               
contracts with,  the borough  has a  concern that  the contracted                                                               
fire departments will  lose their immunity under  the current law                                                               
if they are  no longer considered municipal  employees. She noted                                                               
that the  other issue in the  Regner Case, [Regner v.  North Star                                                               
Volunteer Fire Department], was whether  or not the borough could                                                               
get  things  dismissed as  a  matter  of  law under  immunity  or                                                               
whether  or  not they  became  fact  issues  for the  court.  She                                                               
revealed that  the Regner Case  is actually still  continuing and                                                               
has been  in litigation  that has spanned  the course  of several                                                               
years.  She opined  that  immunity litigation  is  taxing to  the                                                               
resources of the  fire departments where costs  gets passed along                                                               
to the  tax payers  and impacts  insurance rates.  She summarized                                                               
that  the  intent is  to  contain  exposure  and try  to  protect                                                               
contracted fire departments from liability.                                                                                     
SENATOR  MACKINNON   asked  if   the  bill  impacts   a  worker's                                                               
compensation claim if a firefighter is hurt.                                                                                    
MS.  DOLAN  answered  that firefighters  are  covered  under  the                                                               
workers' compensation laws and the  bill does not impact workers'                                                               
compensation  claims. She  specified  that the  bill pertains  to                                                               
actions such  as a  fire department  responding to  a fire  and a                                                               
homeowner complained  that only one  engine was sent  rather than                                                               
SENATOR MACKINNON  addressed gross negligence and  asked if there                                                               
is a higher standard that a homeowner could still lay a claim.                                                                  
MS. DOLAN answered that as  directed, the bill's version in front                                                               
of the  committee would exclude gross  negligence. She summarized                                                               
that  no,  a  homeowner  could   not  bring  a  claim  under  the                                                               
circumstance noted by Senator MacKinnon.                                                                                        
MR. SHILLING  detailed that the  bill establishes  total immunity                                                               
for fire  departments. He  noted that Ms.  Dolan and  the borough                                                               
attorneys suggested that if the  committee and the Legislature is                                                               
uncomfortable with  complete immunity,  there is language  in the                                                               
911  Immunity  Statutes  were  an   exception  can  be  made  for                                                               
intentional misconduct  and gross negligence, an  extreme form of                                                               
3:55:35 PM                                                                                                                    
MITCH FLYNN,  Fire Chief, Steese Area  Volunteer Fire Department,                                                               
Fairbanks North  Star Borough, Fairbanks,  Alaska, added  that he                                                               
is  also  the CEO  of  a  501(c)(3) nonprofit  organization  that                                                               
provides fire and  emergency medical services (EMS)  to the north                                                               
and west of  Fairbanks; approximately 2,200 square  miles for EMS                                                               
and 40  square miles for fire  service areas. He said  the Steese                                                               
Fire  Department  is  concerned  about liability  and  the  issue                                                               
predates  the  Regner  Case. He  asserted  that  recruitment  and                                                               
retention  is always  a concern  due to  questions pertaining  to                                                               
liability.  He   said  operating   under  possible   exposure  to                                                               
liability  becomes quite  detrimental  to  managing a  department                                                               
where  one  worries  about  a   lawsuit  when  responding  to  an                                                               
emergency each day. He opined that  if an incident happened and a                                                               
lawsuit occurred in  the course of the department  doing its job,                                                               
outside  of  gross negligence  and  willful  acts of  misconduct,                                                               
70,000 residents could be adversely  effected by higher insurance                                                               
premiums.  He noted  that the  department's insurance  broker has                                                               
indicated  that  SB  45's  passage will  reduce  risk  and  lower                                                               
insurance premiums. He summarized that  SB 45 will allow more tax                                                               
dollars to  go towards firefighting  activities and  less towards                                                               
high insurance policy payouts.                                                                                                  
3:58:33 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR BISHOP asked  if a volunteer department trains  to the same                                                               
standards as a municipal fire department.                                                                                       
CHIEF FLYNN answered yes. He  stated that training probably takes                                                               
on more of  an emphasis because the department  trains every day,                                                               
every shift trains.                                                                                                             
He  noted  that  the  staffing  procedures  at  the  Steese  Area                                                               
Volunteer  Fire  Department  has   improved  the  fire  insurance                                                               
premiums for  homeowners, representing  a 40 percent  savings. He                                                               
said total  savings on an  insurance premium for an  average home                                                               
ends up  being about  2 to 1,  so for every  dollar paid  in fire                                                               
taxes, the department puts $2 back into homeowner's pockets.                                                                    
4:00:35 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  MACKINNON  revealed  that  her two  sons  are  volunteer                                                               
firefighters and declared a potential conflict.                                                                                 
She noted  that the Legislature's  legal department  has actually                                                               
rewritten and reenacted AS 09.65.070.  She inquired how the legal                                                               
department went  about the  rewrite and  the possible  effects on                                                               
the  definition section.  She noted  that the  definitions remain                                                               
the  same in  later portions  of  section (d)  and addressed  her                                                               
concern for consistency throughout the statute.                                                                                 
MR.  SHILLING  answered   that  he  believes  that   all  of  the                                                               
substantive  elements of  AS 09.65.070(c),  as  written now,  are                                                               
contained in  the bill. He  asserted that the only  change brings                                                               
the  contract departments  under the  statute. He  concurred with                                                               
Senator MacKinnon  that the statute  was repealed  and rewritten.                                                               
He  surmised that  the action  was done  to fit  current drafting                                                               
conventions. He asked  that Suzy Shutts, the  drafter, to address                                                               
the changes.                                                                                                                    
SENATOR MACKINNON  asked for comment  from Ms. Shutts  to address                                                               
whether the  rewrite was a  drafting conformity or  whether there                                                               
is any possible  ramifications that might be  unknown from adding                                                               
the  contract departments.  She asked  if something  is going  to                                                               
happen   to  the   existing   municipalities   or  village   fire                                                               
departments that are currently  included under different language                                                               
currently in section (c).                                                                                                       
4:03:12 PM                                                                                                                    
SUSIE SHUTTS, Attorney, Legislative  Legal Services, Alaska State                                                               
Legislature,  Juneau,  Alaska,  explained  that  the  appeal  and                                                               
reenactment  was done  to fit  current  drafting conformity.  She                                                               
specified   that  the   two   definitions   in  subsection   (e),                                                               
"municipality" and "village" are  defined; that language is still                                                               
used in (c)  and the meaning would  not be changed as  far as the                                                               
definitions are applied.                                                                                                        
4:04:17 PM                                                                                                                    
ROBERT  GROVE,  Chairman  of  the  Board,  Ester  Volunteer  Fire                                                               
Service   Area   Commission,   Fairbanks  North   Star   Borough,                                                               
Fairbanks,  Alaska,  noted that  the  liability  issues for  fire                                                               
departments goes back for over 25  years. He stated that SB 43 is                                                               
very appropriate  and timely  by addressing  an issue  of knowing                                                               
whether  or  not  a  department  is  covered  for  liability.  He                                                               
recommends that the committee pass SB 43.                                                                                       
4:07:27 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  BISHOP noted  that Senator  MacKinnon  stated a  potential                                                               
conflict due  to her  two sons  being volunteer  firefighters. He                                                               
declared that Senator MacKinnon has no conflict.                                                                                
SENATOR EGAN  announced that he still  is a trustee and  a former                                                               
volunteer for the Juneau Fire Department.                                                                                       
CHAIR BISHOP called  attention to Chief Flynn's  comment that the                                                               
realized savings from passing SB  43 could mean more assets going                                                               
towards  fighting  fires  and  training,  perhaps  less  requests                                                               
coming to the Legislature as well.                                                                                              
SENATOR EGAN  asked what did  Juneau do  in 1975 and  inquired if                                                               
the  legislation addressed  Juneau's service  districts prior  to                                                               
MR. SHILLING answered that he did not know.                                                                                     
CHAIR BISHOP closed public comment.                                                                                             
CHAIR BISHOP declared that SB 43 will be held in committee.                                                                     

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
SB43 Ver W.PDF SCRA 2/17/2015 3:30:00 PM
SB 43
SB45 Bill Version A.pdf SCRA 2/17/2015 3:30:00 PM
SB 45
SB45 Parks and Rec Service Area Boundaries vsn A.pdf SCRA 2/17/2015 3:30:00 PM
SB 45
SB45 Support Letter MOA 2-12-15.pdf SCRA 2/17/2015 3:30:00 PM
SB 45
SB43 Fiscal Note DOTPF.pdf SCRA 2/17/2015 3:30:00 PM
SB 43
SB43 Fiscal Note DPS.pdf SCRA 2/17/2015 3:30:00 PM
SB 43
SB43 Fiscal Note DOTPF.pdf SCRA 2/17/2015 3:30:00 PM
SB 43
SB 43 Sponsor Statement.pdf SCRA 2/17/2015 3:30:00 PM
SB 43
SB45 Fiscal Note.pdf SCRA 2/17/2015 3:30:00 PM
SB 45
SB 45 Sponsor Statement.pdf SCRA 2/17/2015 3:30:00 PM
SB 45