Legislature(2003 - 2004)
05/06/2004 08:16 AM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
CSHB 549(JUD)am-UNSOLICITED COMMUNICATION:AIRCRAFT CRASH MS. VANESSA TONDINI, staff to Representative McGuire, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, reminded members that she has presented HB 549 several times so was available to answer questions. CHAIR SEEKINS asked Ms. Tondini if she was able to summarize some of the conversations that have taken place about this legislation since its last hearing. MS. TONDINI explained that a committee member expressed concern about the penalty and she believes an amendment may be proposed to address that concern. SENATOR THERRIAULT moved the following amendment [Amendment 1]: On page 2, line 9 [version Q], change $100,000 to $10,000. MS. TONDINI informed members that Representative McGuire does not object to that amendment. CHAIR SEEKINS noted that without objection, Amendment 1 was adopted. SENATOR FRENCH moved to adopt Amendment 2, which reads as follows: A M E N D M E N T 2 OFFERED IN THE SENATE BY SENATOR FRENCH TO SCS CSHB 549(L&C) Page 2, lines 8-12: Delete all material and insert: "(d) The attorney general or an aggrieved person may institute a civil action against a person who violates this section. In addition to injunctive and compensatory relief, a civil penalty not to exceed $10,000 may be imposed for each violation." CHAIR SEEKINS objected for the purpose of discussion. SENATOR FRENCH explained that the purpose of Amendment 2 is to turn what is proposed to be a crime into a civil wrongdoing. Amendment 2 would allow either the attorney general or an aggrieved person to bring a civil action against an attorney or an agent of the airlines to seek redress for any intrusion during the 45-day cooling off period. He opined that the main benefit of Amendment 2 is that it will allow the wrongs to be addressed. He said assuming that an overworked district attorney will file a criminal complaint against a lawyer for contacting an injured victim of an airplane accident within 45 days of the accident is unlikely. He believes the caseloads of the district attorneys' offices will preclude them from taking action on what they will see as a civil issue. Amendment 2 will put the power in the attorney general's office or the aggrieved person's hands to take action. He repeated that he believes this bill addresses a civil wrong, not a crime. MS. TONDINI maintained that Representative McGuire opposes Amendment 2 as she believes a criminal penalty is appropriate. Such a penalty will get the attention of the Alaska Bar Association. The existing penalty in HB 549 does not include jail time. She furthered that although the district attorneys' caseload may be high, that is also the case for the civil division of the attorney general's office. SENATOR OGAN asked what the sanctions would be if an attorney is convicted of this crime. MS. TONDINI said she believes the bar association would take notice of a criminal conviction on an attorney's record and may disbar that attorney or take other appropriate action. SENATOR FRENCH said he believes the answer to that question is "it depends." He said the bar association sometimes waits until a criminal action is complete before taking action, which may result in an unnecessary delay. He said if he was charged with this crime, he would insist on a jury trial and appeal it for as long as possible. He believes the civil route is cleaner and faster, and more likely to lead to prosecutions than a criminal action. CHAIR SEEKINS asked Senator French if he would use the same tactic to drag the case out for a civil action. SENATOR FRENCH said the "aura" of a criminal conviction is higher and a civil charge would more likely lead to settlement. The two parties could settle their disagreement over the practice of driving airplane passengers to the hospital, which is what this bill aims to stop. He said he sees Amendment 2 as a rational first step; if, in two years it has not produced any results, the undesired activity can be made a crime. SENATOR THERRIAULT noted that a criminal charge could only be brought by the state, whereas Amendment 2 would permit an aggrieved person to bring a civil charge. With no further discussion, the roll was called. Amendment 2 failed to be adopted with Senator French in favor and Senators Therriault, Ogan and Seekins opposed. CHAIR SEEKINS said he believes the criminal penalty will be a greater deterrent. SENATOR OGAN moved SCS CSHB 549(JUD) and its attached fiscal notes from committee with individual recommendations. SENATOR FRENCH objected. The motion to move SCS CSHB 548(JUD) from committee carried with Senators Ogan, Therriault and Seekins in favor and Senator French opposed.