Legislature(2003 - 2004)
03/08/2004 09:05 AM Senate FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
CS FOR SENATE BILL NO. 179(HES) "An Act relating to criminal history records and background checks; allowing persons to teach in the public schools for up to five months without a teaching certificate if the person has applied for a certificate and the application has not been acted upon by the Department of Education and Early Development; allowing teacher certification for certain persons based on a criminal history background check without fingerprints; 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 Therriault, "amends the State law to meet the requirements set out by the United States Department of Justice in regards to federal background checks on Alaskans. Senate Bill 179 addresses a concern expressed by teachers whose fingerprints are not processed in a timely manner." He noted a draft of a committee substitute, which contains changes proposed by the Senate Health, Education and Social Services Committee. Co-Chair Green moved for adoption of CS SB 179, 23-LS0938\U, as a working document. Co-Chair Wilken objected for an explanation. ZACH WARWICK, Staff to Senator Therriault, testified that this bill stared as a "tool" to allow teachers an alternative in the current system of criminal history background checks necessary to receive a teaching certificate. However, he reported that a problem arose in that a number of teachers were required to resubmit fingerprint samples every three months due to illegible samples. He explained that the ridges on the fingers of many teachers, and many nurses as well, tend to wear down after many years of handling paper. He stated the affected teachers are usually those who had retired and were now returning to teaching. Mr. Warwick stated that during FY 03 over 40 teachers are affected by an inability to collect legible fingerprints, are required to resubmit their prints, thus resulting in an "endless process". Mr. Warwick relayed that he was informed by the Department of Law and the Department of Public Safety that the State was in jeopardy of losing its "ability to perform federal" background checks for professions requiring clearance. He reminded that the State had been granted "broad based authority" to perform background checks on a number of professions, although provisions to conduct fingerprinting were regulatory rather than statutory. In 1997, he stated that the federal government audited the State's practices and directed the language to be contained in statutes. Mr. Warwick told of a "laundry list" of professions requiring criminal history background checks that was developed by the Senate Health Education and Social Services Committee, upon consultation between the Department of Law and the Department of Public Safety. He noted that changes to the original version of the bill were made conceptually and that meanwhile, Representative Carl Gatto introduced separate legislation to address delays in processing of criminal history background checks for some teachers. He noted these delays were not due to illegible fingerprints or criminal histories, but rather because of a backlog in processing. Mr. Warwick stated that the Senate Health Education and Social Services Committee proposed extending the application period from three to five months; however, the Division of Legal and Research Services advised that such a change to this bill would violate the single subject rule pertaining to legislation. In addition, he stated that the Department of Education and Early Development had concerns that teachers would submit applications later and time would not be allowed for processing delays. Mr. Warwick told of efforts to address these concerns. He stated that the committee substitute retains the three month application period and grants the Department of Education and Early Development the ability to issue a 60-day conditional waiver to accommodate processing delays. He noted these changes comply with the single subject rule. Co-Chair Wilken removed his objection to the adoption of the committee substitute and the committee substitute was ADOPTED as a working draft. Co-Chair Green referenced Section 7 on pages 3 and 4 of the committee substitute, which would add a new article and statute: Article 1A. National Criminal History Record Check., and AS 12.62.400. National criminal history record checks for employment, licensing, and other noncriminal justice purposes. She asked about any questions or concerns regarding criminal history background checks for handgun ownership permits. Mr. Warwick answered that no questions or concerns have been expressed to the sponsor. Co-Chair Green clarified this committee substitute would not change the current system relating to issuance of permits for the ownership of handguns. Mr. Warwick understood that the provisions of Section 7 are currently authorized in regulations. DAVID SCHADE, Department of Public Safety testified via teleconference from an offnet location that he and other Department staff were available to respond to questions. PAULA HARRISION, Director, Human Resources and Labor Relations, Mat-Su School District testified via teleconference from an offnet location in support of this committee substitute and efforts to "keep this bill alive" until the regulations are made statutory. She offered to share experiences of the school district. JENNIFER TAYLOR, testified via teleconference from Ketchikan and read her written testimony into the record as follows I have been certified as an Alaskan teacher since 1981. Every subsequent five years it has been necessary to repeat fingerprint processing (rolling) numerous times at the only locally available agency, the Craig Police Department. The ridges normally required for finger print identification, are not well enough defined on my fingers to suit the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development requirements. Home remedies such as soaking my hands in lotion and corn starch, avoiding all housework, and splitting of firewood, merely leave my home dirty and my children cold, and still do not promote better-defined prints. I had 8 finger print cards rolled for me, on three occasions, by the Craig Police Department in the past seven months. Chief See took the time to write a department letter to the Dept. of Education explaining that my particular fingerprints would likely consistently be illegible because my ridges were not well enough defined. He was upset with me that his letter was essentially ignored. This is not theoretically a medical condition, nor a disability, though apparently it is permanent and has not been cured by replacing our wood stove with a toyo stove. My concern is that the language in Section 10 allows for the inclusion of public safety and police officers trained and familiar with fingerprint processing (rolling) as experts, in addition to medical doctors for the purposes of determining that cases such as my own, where prints are repeatedly illegible, be included as "a permanent skin condition". Such is especially important considering the lack of access in rural Alaska to other than public safety officers as agencies to obtain prints. My Alaskan teaching certification fees already cost me seven times that of my Washington teaching certificate, and without health insurance, I cannot afford the added expense of a medical office visit to explain my non- medical skin "condition". Thank you for your consideration Co-Chair Wilken referenced Section 7 and the list of professions requiring criminal history record checks and asked whether day care providers are included. Mr. Warwick surmised that subparagraph (5) includes daycare providers. The language reads as follows. (5) a position involving supervisory or disciplinary power over a minor or dependent adult for which criminal justice information may be released under AS 12.62.160(b)(9); KEVIN SWEENEY, Legislative Liaison, Department of Education and Early Development, testified to the Department's efforts to change the regulatory provisions to statutory. However, he requested clarification of language in the committee substitute. Mr. Sweeney referenced AS 14.20.020(j)(1) in Section 10 on page 6, lines 10 and 11, which reads as follows (1) person cannot submit legible fingerprint cards due to a permanent disability that precludes the person's ability to submit fingerprints; or Mr. Sweeney asked the sponsor's intent as to how the Department would verify that a teacher's fingerprints could not be read. He noted the Department would be unable to make such verifications "from afar". Mr. Warwick expressed intent that the official agency conducting fingerprinting would verify whether a person was unable to submit legible fingerprint cards due to a permanent disability. Mr. Sweeney also clarified that a person with missing fingers or hands could be determined by a physician to be a permanent disability. Mr. Warwick agreed this would be considered a permanent disability. Mr. Sweeney next referenced new language inserted to AS 14.20.010 in Section 8 on page 5, lines 1 through 7 of the committee substitute, which reads as follows. A person who has made application for a certificate under this section may teach for an additional 60 days beyond three months without a certificate if the department grants a written extension. An extension may be granted under this section for not more than 60 days to the person solely due to delay in the department's receipt of criminal justice information under AS 12.62 or a national criminal history record check under AS 12.62.400. Mr. Sweeney requested clarification that such an extension would be granted only if the delay is the result of a backlog of the criminal history record check process, rather than failure for the teacher to submit fingerprints. He shared that many applications are received "at the last minute" of the current 90 day period and do not provide adequate time for processing. He expressed the Department's concern with avoiding a situation in which a person with a sexual deviant criminal history is dealing with young children. Co-Chair Green offered motion to report CS SB 179, 23-LS0938\U from Committee with individual recommendations and two new fiscal notes. AT EASE 9:22 AM / 9:27 AM There was no objection and CS SB 179 (FIN) REPORTED from Committee with two zero fiscal notes dated 3/8/04 from the Department of Public Safety, and the Department of Education and Early Development.