Legislature(1999 - 2000)
03/30/1999 08:08 AM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
CS FOR SENATE BILL NO. 4(JUD) "An Act relating to establishing an office of victims' rights; relating to compensation of victims of violent crimes; relating to eligibility for a permanent fund dividend for persons convicted of and incarcerated for certain offenses; and amending Rule 16, Alaska Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 9, Alaska Delinquency Rules, and Rule 501, Alaska Rules of Evidence." Senator RICK HALFORD and BRETT HUBER testified to the bill. Senator Rick Halford told the committee the bill had been before the Legislature the previous session and passed the Senate. The bill was to implement the constitutional amendment, which was overwhelmingly passed by the voters. It was to guarantee the rights of victims of crimes. There were a number of guarantees in the constitution that seemed to only protect the accused and the victims were often lost in the process, as they still were, according to Senator Rick Halford. He continued by saying this was an effort to insert an operating entity behind the Advocacy for Victims' Rights. It would have the ability, the experience and the opportunity to represent the victim's interest, in a very technical forum, at a time when they were at their weakest point in their lives as they were dealing with horrendous crimes and they needed help. The system was designed with its own efficiency to deal with everything from plea- bargains to difference in charges and other technical changes. The victims needed this help and this legislation would help. He noted the difference between this bill and the prior bill. The only difference was an effort to ensure that the funding mechanism actually came from the element that caused the problem - those people who were convicted of the crime. Brett Huber addressed the funding mechanism. He pointed out that it was detailed in Sections 9 and 10. The funding mechanism was a pool of people found ineligible for Permanent Fund Dividends because they had either been convicted or were incarcerated. The change in this bill would create a broadening of the pool. The pool last year was $3.9 million, which was a 24% growth rate over the previous year. The bill would apply to someone incarcerated for a misdemeanor sometime during the calendar year of the qualifying year that was previously convicted of a felony or two misdemeanors. Current language in statutes said, "previously convicted of two crimes." Numbers provided by Department of Corrections gave an estimate of the 1998-qualifying year how many people would be added to the pool by calculating 1997 and 1996. There was a statutory exemption that set the date of how far back the provision could reach at January 1, 1997. He explained that the number supplied by the Department of Corrections used information about felony convictions in the year 1996 as an example to show what could be expected in 1999 using the years 1997 and 1998 in the calculations. Actual application would not use the year 1996. However, the department expected the numbers to remain somewhat constant with a four-percent annual increase. Approximately $540,000 new dollars would be added to the pool in FY99. He pointed out that as the legislation was in place, there would be a longer history to draw from in terms of numbers of crimes committed by individuals. For example, the year 2000 would contain felony and misdemeanor convictions for three qualifying years and 2001 would contain four years worth of convictions. He summarized that the growth of the fund would accommodate the initial fiscal notes. Anticipated growth in the future would provide a surplus. Co-Chair John Torgerson asked about the fiscal note that showed the $540,000 figure. Brett Huber replied that it wasn't contained in a fiscal note it was a fiscal analysis provided by the Department of Corrections. Co-Chair John Torgerson said he did have a fiscal note from the Permanent Fund Division that showed $255,000 that referred to numbers they got from the Department of Corrections. Brett Huber commented that the Department of Corrections had difficulty pulling accurate numbers due to their system set-up. They had reprogrammed their system and produced another set of numbers they were more comfortable with. The $255,000 only accounted for one calendar year, 1998. However, if the bill went into effect in 1999, it would be possible to use 1997 and 1998 as qualifying years. He calculated the figures to total $440,000. He stressed that this was an assumption based on the past two years. Co-Chair John Torgerson wanted to know if it was the sponsor's intent that the money to authorize this program would not come from the other two authorized programs and that this program would generate enough funds by the change in definition of qualifying convictions. Senator Rick Halford affirmed and said there would actually be excess funds. Senator Sean Parnell pointed out that an already authorized program was the Crimes Victim's Compensation Commission. He understood the mission of the Office of Victim's Rights was to implement the Victim's Rights Amendment. Part of that Amendment was the right to restitution from the accused and the rest dealt with the structure of the criminal justice process. Since the Crime Victim's Compensation Commission already existed to provide money to the victims, he wondered if the bill eliminated the commission or merged it with this new office. If not, why? Senator Rick Halford replied that this program would not give money to victims. It would provide representation to victims since they could not deal with the legal process in their weak emotional state. He explained the current system, which was technical and geared toward maximum output. The victim was lost in that system without some form of advocacy. Senator Sean Parnell agreed, but was not addressing that part of the mission. He was asking about Section 3. Brett Huber explained that section was incorporated into the prior bill at the request of Senator Dave Donley. It increased the caps that the compensation board could pay. It did not deal with this program. Senator Al Adams asked if this legislation duplicated services provided by the Department of Law. Senator Rick Halford doubted in did terms of advocacy. While the Department of Law said they tried to consider victim's rights, victims claimed they were not adequate. He did not believe the victims were getting their constitutionally guaranteed protections. Senator Al Adams then had a question on Sections 9 and 10 that set the provisions for withholding PFD's after conviction of two misdemeanors. He wondered how would the program be paid for. Senator Rick Halford explained how the PFD would be withheld from those with two misdemeanors or one felony conviction for the qualifying calendar year. He noted the state had a significant investment in the cost of the crime long before this point was reached. Brett Huber clarified that the prisoner did not receive a dividend and have it confiscated. They were ineligible to receive it at all; the Permanent Fund Dividend Division and the Department of Corrections determined who would otherwise be eligible and the funds would place in the pool for legislative appropriation to the three programs. Senator Al Adams then referred to Section 10, the pool and wanted to know if this program was a priority over the other programs. Senator Rick Halford stated it was not a priority. Senator Loren Leman referred to the example of the earliest reach-back date of 1997. He was unable to locate that in the bill. Brett Huber said it was not in the bill but was a current law. Senator Loren Leman asked about the fiscal note prepared by the Legislative Council. He had difficulty with the high program cost when the Legislature was trying to revise pay ranges for legislative positions. Did the position need to be filled at a Range 26A? He noted other costs he felt were excessive and wondered if this was reasonable. Senator Rick Halford responded that the qualifications for the position were comparable to that of a judge. He also noted that this was in the Legislative Branch and was subject to the appropriation process. If this program tried to reduce costs, he felt it would comply with what was recommended. If the position could be filled at a lower cost, it would be considered. The fiscal note was up to this committee and was submitted as a recommendation. It could be changed at any time in the process, h e stressed. Senator Loren Leman asked who gave the recommendation. Brett Huber said it was comparable to attorney salary for staff in the Department of Law who had similar responsibility. Senator Sean Parnell turned the discussion back to the pool of dividends asking if it would be about $500,000. Brett Huber affirmed and detailed. Senator Sean Parnell asked how much the program would need to exist next year. Brett Huber said there was a real chance there would be no impact in the FY00 budget. He detailed the process of collection of the funds for appointing the victims advocate. It was possible the bill could be adopted and the advocate no put into place this year. Other costs included start up costs for supplies and equipment and on-going costs of about $450,000. Senator Sean Parnell calculated that would leave about $90,000 in the pool. He asked if there were any numbers on the expanded Crime Victims Compensation Commission, and if that would use up the remaining funds. Brett Huber responded that the pool was growing all ready and he detailed the amounts in the fund. He added that there were also federal funds accumulating. Senator Gary Wilken referred to testimony that this would be revenue neutral. He did not see that. Brett Huber pointed out the document. Senator Gary Wilken asked how did that figure was reached. Brett Huber detailed the calculations of the amounts commenting that they tried to use the safest assumption. Senator Gary Wilken asked where the 1997 figures came from. Brett Huber read the information and explained. Senator Loren Leman recalled a discussion to take the PFDs from those convicted of a misdemeanor during the time Senator Frank was in the Legislature. He asked if the bill considered multiple convictions. Brett Huber said it did and the bill would amend statute to include one felony and two misdemeanors. Co-Chair John Torgerson asked if there were any questions of the Department of Corrections. There were none. NANCI JONES, Director, Permanent Fund Dividend Division, Department of Revenue, testified via teleconference from Anchorage. She concurred with the testimony stated earlier. She clarified that this would be the first reporting year of those convicted of a misdemeanor crime. Therefore, their figures as the contribution to the fund were only estimates. Co-Chair John Torgerson noted the division's fiscal note differed from that of the Department of Corrections and he asked for comment. Nanci Jones responded that the division looked back only to 1997. The Department of Corrections looked back two years to 1996 to get their estimate. She detailed how the figures would be calculated were the bill to pass. Co-Chair John Torgerson had another question stating that the money went to fund four programs, including this if it were adopted. He wanted to know if the program ran short of funds how would the division prorate where the money would go to cover the costs of the programs? Nanci Jones answered that Office of Management and Budget made those decisions and she detailed the process. Co-Chair John Torgerson said if Office of Management and Budget was distributing the funds there should be a provision to prevent them from shorting the Legislative process. Senator Rick Halford commented that he thought the statement claiming that the Office of Management and Budget appropriated the funds was interesting and clarified that the Legislature really had oversight. Senator Gary Wilken asked what was the number of the fiscal note referred to with the $250,000. Co-Chair John Torgerson said it was number 8 and the figure was contained in an attachment to the fiscal note. That was were his confusion came from, until Ms. Jones explained. Senator Gary Wilken wondered if the cover page of fiscal note # 8 should say something other than zero. Co-Chair John Torgerson said the note directed to the attachment. While the program would cost them zero, it did generate funds. Senator Gary Wilken referred to page 11 line 23 and tried to get a sense of what that change meant. In order to forfeit a PFD, a person had to first be incarcerated at some point during the year and be incarcerated as a result of conviction of two misdemeanors. He wondered if a person could have a speeding ticket and then serve three days for drunk driving and qualify under the program. Brett Huber explained that a speeding ticket was a violation not a misdemeanor. Senator Gary Wilken asked what were misdemeanors. Brett Huber referred him to AS 11.81.900, which listed misdemeanors. Senator Pete Kelly gave an example [inaudible]. There was further discussion to clarify the crimes pertinent to the provisions of the bill. Senator Al Adams pointed out that there were two types of misdemeanors, A and B. He wondered if this bill distinguished between the two. He spoke of rural residents loosing their permanent fund dividend. Brett Huber understood the discussion but noted that all of this was in current law, this bill just added one felony to the list. The committee began hearing public testimony. KAREN CAMPBELL, whose eight-year-old daughter was raped and murdered, testified via teleconference from Anchorage. She testified that she had been victimized by the criminal justice system and told of her experience. She said she was not alone and told stories of others victimized by the system. She said one attorney in the Department of Law would be unable to perform the duties, mistakes would be justified within the department. She felt the position needed to be separate. She implored the committee to adopt SB 4. JANICE LIENHART, representing Victims for Justice, testified via teleconference from Anchorage. She stressed that there needed to representation for victims. This bill would provide assistance. She spoke to the adopted constitutional amendment saying, "Laws without recourse were worthless." Senator Loren Leman appreciated her work over the years done on a limited budget. He asked what her organization could have done with the half million dollars. Janice Lienhart responded that her organization helped the victims but had no power to enforce complaints when the victim's rights were violated. She said a separate attorney was necessary. Her office would help with that. SARA SHORT, representing Families First and the sister of a murder victim, testified via teleconference from Anchorage. She fully supported the bill. She and her infant niece were victimized by the system and that there was no accountability for the system. She asked why agencies had more protection than the victims. CHAROLETTE PHELPS, Victim's Advocate for Justice [?], and the victim of a violent crime, testified via teleconference from Anchorage. She testified in support of SB 4. She took exception to language on page 1 line 13, which said the court could limit the number of victims allowed to testify in sentencing hearings. She found that disturbing since it infringed on victim's rights. She said it could not be determined how many victims were affected by a particular crime. A crime affected each victim differently and input was needed from all the victims in establishing a sentence. She stated she thought this was a model bill other states could use. Senator Dave Donley made a historical note telling the committee that provision was part of a compromise reached by the Legislature and the Cowper Administration. Tape: SFC - 99 #71, Side B 8:55 AM Senator Dave Donley continued his statement. Senator Randy Phillips asked if the current administration had been contacted for comment. Senator Dave Donley had not, but noted there were policy arguments for both sides. There were concerns that if all the survivors of a murder victim came to testify, it could clog up the court process. This provision was to prevent that and have the victims chose a spokesperson. Some judges had abused this and others had been very considerate of the victims. He felt the judges who abused victims could have the information made public. The language would be fine if the judicial system exercised some restraints. Senator Randy Phillips asked Charlotte Phelps about her experience. Charlotte Phelps said in her experience there were several victims. The judge did not limit the number of speakers but set a total time limit so each person was unable to say everything they wanted. She knew of other situations where the judge ruled that only certain victims could speak. She suggested adding "reasonable". Senator Randy Phillips said he would offer an amendment to reflect her suggestion. Co-Chair John Torgerson ordered the bill held in committee.