Legislature(2015 - 2016)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)
04/16/2016 09:00 AM JUDICIARY
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HB 308-CHILD SAFETY SEAT INSTALLATION LIABILITY 9:44:35 AM CHAIR MCGUIRE announced the consideration of HB 308 am. She noted this is the second hearing and there is a proposed Senate committee substitute. 9:44:49 AM SENATOR COGHILL moved to adopt the Senate CS for HB 308, labeled 29-LS1323\H, as the working document. CHAIR MCGUIRE found no objection and stated that version H is before the committee. She stated her intention to move the bill and listed the individuals available to answer questions. 9:45:33 AM LINDSEY WITT, Staff, Representative Charisse Millett, Alaska State Legislature, stated that the part of HB 308 she is most familiar with provides civil immunity to volunteers who are trained car seat technicians, instructors, and individuals that arrange child car seat checkup events. She noted the bill was amended in the other body to lower the booster seat age to 4 rather than 5. 9:47:07 AM SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI asked if there is opposition to the bill. MS. WITT answered absolutely none so far. CHAIR MCGUIRE asked Mr. Logan to explain the amendment from her office. 9:47:22 AM JESSEE LOGAN, Staff, Senator Lesil McGuire, Alaska State Legislature, reviewed the changes in the Senate CS for HB 308. He described the changes as fairly simply; a few sections are added, a few sections are renumbered, and there is a title change. He spoke to the following document titled "SCS for HB 308(JUD) Summary of Changes version A.A to version H:" Title Change Page 1, Line 1 Following "An Act relating to" Insert: "to compensation of attorneys in actions against the state; Page 1, Line 4-5 Following "motor vehicles;" Insert "and amending Rule 35, Alaska Bar Rules" Section 1. AS 09.19.300 Page 1, Lines 7-11 New Section Chapter 19 pertains only to prisoner and correctional facility litigation against the state. This section inserts language regarding compensation of attorneys in actions against the state. Under this new section a plaintiff's attorney may not enter into a contract for payment of fees based on contingency fee in excess of 25% of damages awarded. Section 2 AS 09.65.094 Page 1, Line 12 thru Page 2, Line 31 Renumbered from Section 1. Section 3 AS 28.05.095(b) Page 3, Lines 1-25 Renumbered from Section 2. Section 4 Page 3, Lines 26-31 Indirect Court Rule Amendment Section 1, regarding attorney contingency fees has the effect of changing Rule 35, Alaska Bar Rules by established a rule governing the amount of fees that an attorney may receive in an action against the state under AS 09.19 Section 5 Page 4, Lines 1-8 Applicability (a) Provisions in Section 1 of this act apply to contracts for legal services entered into on or after the effective date of this Act. Section 6 Page 4, Lines 11-13 Conditional Effect Section 1 of this act only takes effect if Section 4 of this Act receives a two-thirds majority vote in each house as required by art IV, sec 15, of the Alaska State Constitution. MR. LOGAN explained that the Department of Corrections (DOC) report of December 2015 was condemning of some practices in some facilities and the worry was that predatory attorneys would paint a target on the state. Moreover, it is a victim's rights motion. It ensures that an incarcerated person who is injured by the state can be made whole through a lawsuit, and the lawyer representing the individual cannot take 50 percent to 60 percent of the award. The remainder of the technical changes appear in Sections 5 and 6; changing an Alaska Bar Rule requires a two- thirds majority vote. CHAIR MCGUIRE added that the amendment embodied in the Senate committee substitute is to the specific area of statute that governs lawsuits against corrections. It adds to the existing section that places caps on damages. The caps were put in place initially in recognition that there would be a lot of litigation in this area and that the state shouldn't be overly exposed to liability. Specifically, version H caps attorney's fees at 25 percent. She noted that attorneys practicing in this area currently are taking 50 percent to 60 percent of an award. She clarified that this is a very narrow part of the statute that already was an area deemed to be a state interest. She opined that this doesn't materially change the original bill. She asked Ms. Witt if she would like to hear from any of the four people online and members if they were comfortable with the changes. 9:52:14 AM SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI objected. He stated that HB 308 is a child car seat bill and the amendment adds a significant change relating to attorney's fees. He said the measure doesn't belong in the bill, there's been no testimony on it, and it's not germane. Respectfully, it's inappropriate and doesn't belong in the bill, he said. He restated his objection. 9:52:40 AM SENATOR COGHILL asked if 25 percent is a standard cap. CHAIR MCGUIRE replied most states do regulate in the area of contingency fees and Alaska said it has a compelling interest in limiting liability in this area. Therefore, a person is entitled to less money in a wrongful death in a DOC facility. SENATOR COGHILL said he would support the change. CHAIR MCGUIRE shared that she participated in "a march toward uncovering the wrongs in corrections" and Senator Coghill warned about exposing the state to millions of dollars of liability in lawsuits. Her choice was to believe that wouldn't be the case, but it turns out that attorneys are filing in every case and it's plaguing DOC. There is already a limit on the cap and the intent of the amendment is to make it clear that attorneys that take these cases will only receive 25 percent of the award. 9:56:52 AM SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI said this major policy change added to a car seat bill makes the entire bill very controversial. He pointed out that there would have been a lot of interest if the bill had been noticed and people were aware that this is being added. At the very least, the bill ought to be held open for public testimony, but the better option is to debate the issue in a separate bill. 9:58:42 AM CHAIR MCGUIRE said she would set HB 308 aside, recess to a call of chair, and bring it up again when there is time to satisfy Senator Wielechowski's concerns.