Legislature(2003 - 2004)
05/05/2004 09:04 AM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HOUSE BILL NO. 379 "An Act establishing an office of citizenship assistance in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development." This was the first hearing for this bill in the Senate Finance Committee. Co-Chair Wilken stated this bill, sponsored by Representative Weyhrauch, "establishes the Office of Citizenship Assistance in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development." REPRESENTATIVE BRUCE WEYHRAUCH explained that Senator Pete Kelly of Fairbanks first introduced this bill two years ago. The Office of Citizenship Assistance was originally envisioned within the Office of Legislative Affairs. Representative Weyhrauch is overwhelmed by the realization that a large minority community exists in the State. For example, ten percent of the population of Juneau consists of immigrants from the Philippines and Tonga. Often immigrants within the State work multiple jobs. In order to obtain citizenship, immigrants must fulfill many requirements and "run the bureaucratic maze". These individuals may have come from a country where they were threatened by their government, and they are unfamiliar with the U.S. government. The Office of Citizenship Assistance would benefit both the public and private sectors in aiding immigrants with the paperwork and processes required to be productive, and eventually naturalized, U.S. citizens. ANDREE MCLEOD testified via teleconference from Anchorage that she does not support this bill. She prefaced by stating that she is an immigrant who was brought to the U.S. by a sponsor. Part of the responsibilities of a sponsor who registers with the Department of Immigration and Naturalization Services is to "bridge" the transition for the immigrants they have chosen to sponsor. She questioned whether it is appropriate to make immigrants into victims when they have exhibited a strong sense of responsibility, and initiative in leaving their native country. Being an American involves interface with the government, and frustration with that interaction. In 1999 Ms Mcleod participated in the Commission on Privitization and Delivery of Government Services. One goal of the Commission was to determine what services are inherently governmental. Certain non-profit organizations provide immigration services that do not need to be duplicated by the government. This legislation addresses a federal problem, not a State problem. The responsibility an immigration sponsor has committed to is undermined by this bill. This legislation is discriminatory based on national origin. She questioned the funding source for the Office proposed in this bill. A few years ago approximately 75- percent of Alaskans voted to make English the official language of State government; therefore interpreting services offered to immigrants should be eliminated. Immigrants must be offered incentives to encourage them to create a better quality of life for themselves; they should not be made into victims. MARIO LIM, private citizen, testified in Juneau and informed that he has assisted immigrants, and the previous testifier might not understand the magnitude of the citizenship process. He has a Masters degree in chemical engineering, and still could not understand the paperwork process. The reaction of the federal government regarding immigration assistance is appalling. All immigrants face this daunting bureaucratic process. He shared an example of a Mexican immigrant who had been attempting to complete the paperwork required for citizenship for nearly two years. Mr. Lim has been assisting immigrants for many years at no charge. The federal government is overburdened with immigration issues, but the State has the ability to help immigrants. After the events of September 11, 2001, immigration issues have magnified. This legislation would be making history by assisting immigrants of the State of Alaska in becoming established in the U.S. He urged the Committee to support this legislation. Senator Bunde asked the number of people the Office of Citizenship Assistance would serve. Representative Weyhrauch responded that the Office would serve a substantial number of immigrants. He predicted that the Office would grow over time as the minority community became familiar with the services it would provide. Senator Bunde asked if the services the Office would provide would be available to immigrants throughout the State. Representative Weyhrauch replied that, yes, the services would be available statewide in communities including Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, Anchorage, and Kodiak, particularly in locations where there is considerable seasonal employment which attracts a substantial number of temporary employees. The Southcentral region of the State would be an area of focus due to its large population. Interpreting services are found statewide, and can be used telephonically when not available in a particular community. Senator Olson inquired as to why an immigrant, referencing Ms. Mcleod, would be opposed to this legislation. Representative Weyhrauch responded that Ms. Mcleod was the only individual that had testified against this bill. Senator Bunde questioned the amount of the fiscal note, and the request for an additional full-time position. GUY BELL, Director, Division of Administrative Services, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, testified that this legislation, when originally proposed by Senator Kelly, contained a fiscal note in excess of $300,000 to provide for an Office in Juneau and Anchorage with three staff members. The current fiscal note reflects the minimum level of funding required to implement this legislation. The Department of Labor and Workforce Development is largely federally funded; however, the federal grant is not sufficient to fund the proposed Office of Citizenship Assistance, thus requiring funding from the State's general fund. The Department has attempted to minimize the costs associated with the Office of Citizenship Assistance, which would be within the Office of the Commissioner, to include some travel expenses, a toll free phone line, and the salary of one full-time professional. SFC 04 # 108, Side A 10:41 AM Senator Bunde asked if the staff position would be located in Juneau. Mr. Bell affirmed. Senator Bunde expressed that legislators are expected to help their constituents. He added that it would be helpful to have a central location from which to get information on immigration issues. Co-Chair Green offered a motion to report the bill from Committee with individual recommendations and accompanying fiscal note. Without objection HB 379 MOVED from Committee with fiscal note #2 for $92,300 from the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.