Legislature(2003 - 2004)
04/17/2003 09:04 AM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SENATE BILL NO. 148 "An Act relating to allowable absences for certain members of the armed forces and their spouses and dependents for purposes of eligibility for permanent fund dividends; and providing for an effective date." This was the first hearing for this bill in the Senate Finance Committee. Co-Chair Wilken stated this bill sponsored by Senator Cowdery "amends the State statute governing allowable absences for the permanent fund dividend for members of the United States armed forces." MARK RIEHLE, Staff to Senator Cowdery, testified this legislation is a "correction of an oversight" in allowable permanent fund dividend absences. He shared that a discrepancy arose in the instance of a 20-year Alaska resident and member of the Navy Reserve who was activated to military service following the terrorist events of September 11, 2001. This resident, Mr. Riehle reported, was recently denied a dividend after serving overseas for ten months and upon return to the country, spending seven weeks in California caring for his quadriplegic brother. Mr. Riehle pointed out the time spent on active military duty is an allowable absence and that under normal circumstances a seven week absence from the State is also allowable. However, he stated that because the seven- week absence immediately followed discharge from active duty, the resident was disqualified from receiving a dividend. He explained this is due to separate requirements applied to military personal that require a resident to return to Alaska within 45 days of discharge. Mr. Riehle requested the Committee join Senator Cowdery "in sponsoring this cause in demonstrating your patriotic thank you to the members of the Reserves, the Guards, and those in active duty military." KIERKE KUSSART testified as a private citizen although she is employed by the Permanent Fund Dividend Division. She stated the argument that because civilians are allowed to be absent 180 days during a qualifying year, military personnel should be granted the same allowance. Ms. Kussart referenced a handout titled, "A brief overview of PFD rules pertaining to SB 148," which reads as follows. Civilian (no special circumstances) Can be gone up to 180 days in a calendar year for any reason as long as home is maintained in state (own, rent, storage) and residency ties are not created in other states. Military Active Duty Must have AK as home of record. Can be gone a whole year - must return for 3 days every 2 years minimum. After 5 years absence must have 30 days in AK. Does not have to maintain home in AK. Can obtain other states drivers license, vehicle registration, resident hunting and fishing licenses. Can purchase home in another state. Spouse can work full time in another state. Once out of AK for over 180 days in a calendar year only 45 days can be for non-military reasons. Main Points 1. Discharge is a scheduled event and can be planned for. Upon discharge the military will ship the applicant's belongings to any address the applicant chooses. 2. Once returns to civilian status the applicant may have many more ties to outside than to AK. Needs to return to fulfill statement of intent. 3. In my opinion six months is an excessive amount of time for a move back to AK, especially since military members are used to moving without much notice. Now that they are free from military obligation it is time to come home. SFC 03 # 59, Side B 09:52 AM Ms. Kussart opined that six months is an excessive amount of time to be absent from Alaska for discharged military personnel who have possibly established residency in another state. She suggested two or three months was adequate. Senator Cowdery commented that military personnel should be given some freedoms when not on active duty. Senator Bunde clarified that while on active duty, military personnel could be absent from the State more than 180 but that only 45 of those days could be for non-military activities. Ms. Kussart affirmed. Senator Cowdery indicated he had been unaware of the 45-day absence limitation. Ms. Kussart noted for the record that she was on leave status from the State during this hearing. Senator Olson asked the percentage of military personnel who become ineligible for the permanent fund dividend after leaving military duty. Ms. Kussart did not have that information as a private citizen and indicated the Division could provide it upon request. Senator B. Stevens pointed out the matter addresses two different types of active duty. He listed one as regular military personnel serving on active duty and the other as reservists or National Guard members called to deployment. He told of a reservist residing in his district who was deployed and is now "facing a similar challenge" in eligibility for Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) benefits. He asked whether the differences could be defined in statute. Senator Cowdery learned this situation is a rare occurrence. He shared that the Department had suggested granting discretionary authority to the commissioner to grant exceptions; however, Senator Cowdery indicated he does not favor this option. Senator B. Stevens expressed that a distinction must be made. Senator Cowdery stated the intent of the legislation would apply to those military personnel on active duty and that no specific distinction was made. Senator B. Stevens stressed the issue is that the resident in question was not on active duty but rather a reservist who was deployed. He stated that if the resident had not been deployed, his seven-week absence would not have disqualified him from receiving a dividend. Senator Taylor remarked that this resident should have been treated as any other citizen. He agreed with Senator B. Stevens that a distinction should be made. He surmised that this affects many residents, as many reservists have been deployed. Co-Chair Wilken ordered the bill HELD in Committee.