Legislature(2015 - 2016)BUTROVICH 205
03/02/2015 01:00 PM Senate JUDICIARY
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SB 41-PSYCHOLOGIST & ASSOC CRIM HISTORY CHECKS 2:05:50 PM CHAIR MCGUIRE announced the consideration of SB 41. "An Act relating to criminal history record checks for psychologists and psychological associates; and providing for an effective date." 2:05:53 PM SENATOR CATHY GIESSEL, Sponsor SB 41, stated that this legislation is about public safety. The Board of Psychologist and Psychological Associate Examiners ("Board") that regulates this profession does not have the statutory authority to conduct criminal background checks as a condition of licensure. This is important because this group of professions provides mental health care services to a vulnerable population. The bill also allows the Board discretion to require a background check on renewals; that will be defined in regulation. 2:08:58 PM SENATOR MICCICHE asked why this wasn't allowed in statute in the past. SENATOR GIESSEL replied this has been discussed for a number of years, but it was never brought before the legislature. 2:09:33 PM ALAN LEVY, L.P.A., Chair, Board of Psychologist and Psychological Associate Examiners ("Board"), addressed the question about why the Board doesn't already have this authority. He explained that psychology as a profession was originally licensed in 1963 and background checks were typically reserved for certain military and high government positions. This created a status quo even though times changed and greater scrutiny over the people who are providing services to vulnerable populations is now standard best practice. He explained that for the past eight years the Board has been trying to get the authority to do background checks, but the Department of Law (DOL) opined that it doesn't have the authority to enact regulations to give itself this power. SB 41 would amend the statutes and grant the authority. 2:12:11 PM CHAIR MCGUIRE asked if there have been incidents that gave rise to the idea. MR. LEVY replied not to his knowledge, but there have been problems in some of the other 16 states that do not require background checks for psychologists or psychological practitioners. Unethical practitioners moved from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and did significant harm due to the absence of scrutiny. He opined that Alaska has been fortunate to have a competent and healthy population of psychologists and psychological associates, but it would be irresponsible to say that nothing will ever happen. CHAIR MCGUIRE noted the letter from Robert Lane, PhD., asking the committee to explore the idea of barrier crimes. She asked the board's intention in that regard. MR. LEVY replied, assuming the bill passes, the intention is to craft appropriate regulations and policies based on the best science available. He is aware of reliable research that points to risk factors in various crimes at various ages, but those questions are for the regulatory phase. SB 41 applies to the statutory phase. 2:15:56 PM SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI related a story about a constituent who didn't want to submit a fingerprint to take a CPA exam due to privacy concerns. He asked how the fingerprint information would be protected to ensure it remains secure. MR. LEVY said his personal inclinations are in line with what the Alaska Constitution values, but he has to balance that with the duty to protect the public. He explained that as a practical matter, criminal background information is covered under state policy and federal law. It can only be used for the purpose for which it was obtained, it cannot be shared or obtained through a public information search. He suggested the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development (DCCED) could discuss exactly how the information is secured. SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI asked if there are look-back limitations. MR. LEVY said the general intent is to create this as a gatekeeper for future applicants, not for current licensed professionals. However, the Board wants the regulatory authority to investigate current licensed professionals if there is reasonable cause to do so. The Board also intends to require background checks for licenses that have lapsed for a period of time. CHAIR MCGUIRE asked if there is a national registry for this profession similar to CODIS that provides information sharing. MR. LEVY advised that a project has been underway for several years to create a centralized credentialing bank on a national and limited international basis. Complaints would be stored and it would create licensure portability. 2:22:55 PM CHAIR MCGUIRE asked if the cost of licensing would increase. MR. LEVY explained that the applicant pays the cost of the background check which is set at about $50 by the Department of Public Safety (DPS). He added that all licensed boards are self- supporting and this Board is dropping its licensing fees as a result of carrying a significant surplus for many years. SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI asked if he disagrees that the language in the bill states that a future Board could require a background check on every renewal. He also asked how often these licenses are renewed. MR. LEVY explained that licenses are renewed every two years. The question about requiring background checks on renewal is a regulatory issue and he doesn't believe the statutory language should tie the hands of a future Board. 2:26:47 PM ROBERT LANE Ph.D., Federal Advocacy Coordinator, Alaska Psychological Association (AK-PA), noted that he submitted written comments. He stated that AK-PA plans to be a part of the process of drafting regulations. He highlighted that during the Labor and Commerce Committee hearing he heard Mr. Levy say the bill is a revenue producer. That caused worry that a background check may be part of relicensing despite the fact that there hasn't been a problem. He reported that the association isn't opposed to the bill, but wants assurance that fees aren't added that prevent people from entering the profession. 2:29:29 PM PAMELA VAN HOUTEN, representing herself, Petersburg, Alaska, testified in support of SB 41. She described the bill as an important public safety tool. People who seek the services of these professionals tend to be in a vulnerable situation, and this client/professional relationship is particularly ripe for abuse. It's therefore of utmost importance to bring forward any past violations that would not be appropriate to this type of professional relationship, she stated. MR. LEVY clarified that he does not view the bill as a revenue enhancer. The idea of it being revenue positive is that it essentially saves money to prevent somebody from preying on the public and causing harm. SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI reviewed the fiscal note from DCCED that anticipates this will cost more than $20,000 per year and states that psychologists will have to submit their fingerprints every two years. MR. LEVY explained that if a future board decides to do biannual background checks, DCCED has to have calculated that possibility. 2:34:33 PM SARAH CHAMBERS, Operations Manager, Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing, Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development (DCCED), confirmed that the intent behind the fiscal note is to ensure that the expenditure authority is available if a future Board decides to do biannual background checks. If the authority isn't needed, it can be reduced in the management plan. 2:35:54 PM CHAIR MCGUIRE announced she would hold SB 41 in committee for further consideration.