Legislature(2003 - 2004)
05/03/2004 09:06 AM Senate FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HOUSE BILL NO. 451 "An Act relating to therapeutic courts; 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 the House Rules Committee at the request of the Governor, "extends the pilot program for therapeutic courts established in Anchorage and Bethel for alcohol and drug addicted offenders out to June 30, 2006. In addition, it repeals the sunset clause that will terminate an Anchorage Superior Court Judge position." DOUG WOOLIVER, Administrative Attorney, Office of the Administrative Director, Alaska Court System, reiterated Co-Chair Wilken's bill summary. Mr. Wooliver continued to testify the following. Just to give you a very brief history of this bill. In 2001 then Speaker of the House, Bryan Porter, introduced and the legislature passed House Bill 172. And the purpose of that bill was to create two pilot therapeutic court programs to deal with felony DWI offenders. The pilot programs were modeled in large part after the pioneering work that was done by Judge Wanamaker in Anchorage. Judge Wanamaker is a District Court Judge and established the wellness court there [in Anchorage] where he deals with misdemeanor offenders with significant alcohol abuse problems. Judge Wanamaker has had great success with that program, and Speaker Porter and the court system wanted to know if we could replicate that success with felony level offenders; thus House Bill 172. In order to determine the effectiveness of these two pilot programs, the bill required the judicial council to conduct a study of those programs to determine their effectiveness. And this study is important not only for your determinations in the future as to whether or not to continue and/or expand these types of programs, but it is important for the court as well because they are very resource-intensive for the court, and we want to make sure that they work. So the evaluation is critically important. Unfortunately both the Anchorage and Bethel programs terminate long before the evaluation has been completed. So if you get the evaluation from the judicial council and decide that these programs are worthwhile and would like to continue them, both programs would have ended over a year earlier. Attorneys are reassigned to other work; the treatment programs are taking other participants. So all this bill does in that regard is just extend the termination of those two pilot programs until after the planned study is completed and you have had the opportunity to review their effectiveness. To our way of thinking it doesn't make a lot of sense to terminate the programs before you have had an opportunity to decide whether they should be terminated. The second very important thing that this bill does is it deletes a sunset clause that was put on a Superior Court Judge that was added by House Bill 172. If that judge sunsets, Anchorage basically looses a Superior Court Judge if that sunset clause isn't deleted. That will mean not only the end of the felony therapeutic court program, but because that judge still spends most of her time on work not related to therapeutic court it will have a significant impact on the Superior Court caseload for all cases that come through the Anchorage Superior Court. The last time a judge was added to the Anchorage bench of Superior Court Judge was in 1984, and since that time our felony caseload has doubled, our children's caseload has doubled, and other caseloads have risen dramatically. We simply can't afford to return to a level of judicial coverage that was established, literally, twenty years ago. So in the end what this bill does is extends our two therapeutic courts until after you and the court had the opportunity to evaluate them, and it keeps a much-needed Superior Court Judge seat in Anchorage. Senator B. Stevens questioned fiscal note #6 for $257,200 from the Alaska Court System. He asked whether the expenses detailed in the fiscal note were already provided for in the FY 05 budget request. Co-Chair Wilken referenced a memorandum he received from Mr. Wooliver dated May 2, 2004 [copy on file], which stated that the costs associated with the position are included in the FY 05 budget request. Mr. Wooliver acknowledged the apparent discrepancy. He explained that zero fiscal notes typically detail in the analysis statement whether existing funds would be utilized to implement the legislation; however, the House Finance Committee directed this fiscal note to include the existing costs. This bill would not require any new expenses. Senator B. Stevens clarified that this legislation would not incur additional expense. Co-Chair Green offered a motion to report the bill from Committee with individual recommendations and accompanying fiscal notes. Without objection HB 451 MOVED from Committee with zero fiscal notes: #1 from the Department of Administration, #2 from the Department of Corrections, #3 from the Department of Health and Social Services, and #4 from the Department of Law, and fiscal note #6 for $257,200 from the Alaska Court System.