Legislature(2003 - 2004)
04/29/2003 01:37 PM Senate L&C
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 176-CIVIL LIABILITY FOR LIVESTOCK ACTIVITIES CHAIR BUNDE announced SB 176 to be up for consideration. MR. BRIAN HOVE, staff to Senator Seekins, said that SB 176 is largely a reincarnation of HB 111, introduced in the 22nd Legislature. It is intended to give livestock owners and others associated with livestock activities a certain measure of protection from frivolous lawsuits. It recognizes that people assume some degree of risk when placing themselves in the vicinity of livestock. The livestock owner, with the best of intentions, cannot completely prevent accidents from happening. SB 176 will not protect the livestock owner who acts in an unreasonable manner, but by reducing some of the liability, the expectation is that this legislation will create an atmosphere that will encourage more livestock activity. This bill is the work of 4H members statewide and 44 other states currently have similar legislation. MS. GABI DOMINGUEZ, a livestock owner, supported SB 176. MR. TED FRANKE, Camp Director, Camp Leila, supported SB 176. He said Camp Leila is a non-profit organization and has about 450 kids each summer and additional kids who come up to visit. MS. LAUREN WILFER, Tanana Whirlwinds 4H Club, supported SB 176. She has fiends who have horses and other animals. SB 176 would help her friend who is a riding instructor at the University with liability if one of her students was killed or injured accidentally. Anyone who accepts any payment is not considered a volunteer and isn't eligible for the University's insurance. MS. KATE SANDERS said she is thinking about becoming a veterinarian and supported SB 176. Right now, if an owner helps her hold or restrain their animal and gets hurt, they can sue her. That is unfair. She also thought it was a good idea for the person who owns an animal to do the restraining, because the animal is more familiar with that person. MS. BEVERLY NESTER, Associate Coordinator, Cowboy Mounted Action Shooters, said she is also the founder of the Alaska Trail Riders Association. She has worked with horses, horsemen and private landowners for over four decades. She supported SB 176 because it would add much needed common sense to the lawsuit crazed society we live in today. MS. SHIRLEY SCHOLLENBERG, Secretary, Kenai Peninsula Farm Bureau, said she had been a 4H leader for 26 years and gives riding lessons and does tours on her farm. She said the bureau voted to support the bill. She is also treasurer for the Ninilchik Fair Association and this bill would definitely benefit fairs, since they are continually dealing with liability issues. MR. STEVE CONN, AKPIRG, said there are parts of this bill that AKPIRG very much supports. TAPE 03-26, SIDE B MR. CONN continued to say AKPIRG doesn't support some parts of it, for example the part that lists rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, turkeys, chickens, pheasants, peafowls, pigeons and ducks as inherently dangerous and unpredictable livestock. He said this immunizing bill stretches the definition of livestock and the reach of individuals pretty far. He pointed out that the conclusion on page 3, lines 16 - 20, does not affect a civil action resulting from what may be the core problem, which is when a participant who provides livestock makes a reasonable and prudent effort to determine the ability of someone to safely manage the livestock activity. He thought this bill might not be as strong as the 4H folks think it is. MR. MATT ROBUS, Acting Director, Division of Wildlife Conservation, pointed out the definition of livestock on page 4, line 19, includes caribou and they are, by definition elsewhere in statute, a game animal and not a domestic animal. Caribou cannot be owned by a person and can only be possessed under a permit from the department. Therefore, a caribou is not an appropriate animal for the list. The domestic form of that species is reindeer, which is on the list. Furthermore, there are three species that can legally be owned under some circumstances that would otherwise be game animals. Those are bison, musk ox and elk. Wild populations are managed as game animals, but if a person has a bill of sale that is proof that they are owned as domestic animals. He suggested that for the purposes of this definition of livestock, it be clearly indicated that the bill only addresses the domestic forms of those species. Finally, Mr. Robus suggested regarding the word "duck" that there are other water fowl that are owned and shown as livestock under these conditions. He suggested removing "duck" and, at the end of the list, after "alpaca," inserting "waterfowl for which a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is not required". SENATOR SEEKINS said he would work on language with Mr. Robus to make sure the bill protects the people they intend to protect. MR. JIM DOUGLAS, Cooperative Extension Service, UAF, said this bill is an attempt by the Cooperative Extension Service and the 4H program to try to get kids to understand the process of law by choosing a pertinent issue and finding out what happens to a bill. They do not have litigious folks in their group, but they certainly have litigious insurance companies that tend to look at the University and property owners as deep pockets. He said an excellent example is an incident that occurred last year when four new horses were in a judging activity and someone slapped one of them and was seriously stepped on. In that situation, one might question whether the person should have been that close to the horses in the first place, even though he was just trying to help out. The bill is designed for people to use common sense. SENATOR FRENCH said that kids like to pet attractive furry animals. He questioned why an owner wouldn't put a screen around such an animal so that a child doesn't get his fingers bit. MR. DOUGLAS replied that the fair provides the cages, but it's difficult to find a screen with holes that small. Domestic cages have about a half-inch space and it does take some amount of force to get a child's fingers through them, but some kids still try - even with warning signs and moving the cages back. SENATOR FRENCH asked if anyone he knew had been sued under these circumstances aside from the owner of the horse who was slapped. MR. DOUGLAS replied no, he has not seen a lot of suits in Alaska, but fellow extension agents around the West are starting to see them. He thought Alaskans had a little tougher mentality. SENATOR FRENCH had some hesitance about this bill because individual responsibility could go both ways. MR. DOUGLAS responded that the bill says gross negligence as opposed to just negligence. MS. JAN HANSCOM, 4H leader in the Tanana Valley, favored keeping small animals like chickens and guinea pigs in the bill. She said they are very well behaved, but they do bite because kids pull their hair and ears. SENATOR SEEKINS moved to pass SB 176 from committee with individual recommendations. The roll was called. SENATORS STEVENS, FRENCH, SEEKINS and BUNDE voted yea and SB 176 moved from committee.