Legislature(1995 - 1996)

03/18/1996 03:35 PM RES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
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           SB 201 FIRE FIGHTING PERSONNEL EMPLOYMENT                          
                                                                              
  CHAIRMAN LEMAN  called the Senate Resources Committee meeting to             
 order at 3:35 p.m.  He introduced SB 201 as the first order of                
 business and noted there was a proposed committee substitute for              
 the committee's consideration.                                                
                                                                               
  GEORGE YASKA , representing the Tanana Chiefs Conference, testified          
 in support for SB 201.  He said it is an issue that has been near             
 to his heart and the fire fighters in the southern region (DNR's              
 jurisdiction) for some years.  He said it always good to do                   
 preventative work, and he thinks SB 201 does that very well.                  
                                                                               
 Mr. Yaska related that he fought fires for many years in the past,            
 and in extremely heavy fire-fighting years they could have greatly            
 benefited from preventative work being done in the low fire-                  
 fighting years.  Most of the time that work isn't done primarily              
 because the statute doesn't allow emergency fire-fighting crews for           
 non-wildfire suppression.                                                     
                                                                               
 Number 105                                                                    
                                                                               
  SENATOR TAYLOR  moved CSSB 201(RES), draft "C," dated 2/10/96 be             
 adopted.  Hearing no objection, the Chairman stated the committee             
 substitute was before the committee as a working document.                    
                                                                               
  SENATOR LINCOLN , prime sponsor of SB 201, explained the only                
 difference in the committee substitute was a clarifying sentence              
 added on page 2, line 2, which reads:  "The assignment of emergency           
 fire-fighting personnel to nonemergency activities may not be used            
 to replace permanent or seasonal state employees."                            
                                                                               
 Senator Lincoln said the legislation was introduced to provide the            
 Department of Natural Resource with the authority to utilize                  
 emergency fire-fighting employees for fire management, fire                   
 suppression and fire prevention activities by adding a new                    
 subsection to AS 41.15.030.  Existing law authorizes the                      
 commissioner to hire fire-fighting personnel, but does not                    
 expressly authorize their use for fire prevention, hazard                     
 reduction, or other related activities.                                       
                                                                               
 SB 201 would clarify that emergency fire-fighting personnel could             
 be employed by the department in nonemergency circumstances to                
 construct and maintain fire breaks and trails, remove brush and               
 timber, conduct prescribed burns and improve wildlife habitat.  The           
 enactment of the bill into law also will ensure the Department of             
 Natural Resources to take advantage of existing federal money for             
 nonemergency fire prevention projects.  In FY 95, the Division of             
 Forestry received approval to receive and expend up to $500,000 in            
 federal receipts to supply emergency fire-fighting crews to federal           
 agencies on a reimbursable basis.  Presently, of the $500,000 that            
 is available through federal money, the Department of Natural                 
 Resources has already identified projects totaling $250,000.  SB
 201 would enable these federal dollars to be utilized by the                  
 already trained fire-fighting crews for the projects that are                 
 identified.                                                                   
                                                                               
 Senator Lincoln said she thinks the impact of the bill is a very              
 positive one on the state with having up to half a million dollars            
 of federal money coming into the state, as well as a positive                 
 impact on the state's resources.                                              
                                                                               
 Number 217                                                                    
                                                                               
  CHAIRMAN LEMAN  noted the bill carries zero fiscal notes, but he             
 wondered how there can be no fiscal impact when the commissioner's            
 authority for hiring is expanded.   SENATOR LINCOLN  responded that           
 it doesn't expend any money; it brings federal money in.                      
                                                                               
  SENATOR TAYLOR  also questioned if there shouldn't be a fiscal note          
 when their is an expenditure of federal funds.   NICO BUS , Acting            
 Director, Division of Support Services, Department of Natural                 
 Resources, clarified that the reason there is not a fiscal note is            
 because the legislation does not mandate that the department do               
 anything.  It gives the department the statutory authority to                 
 utilize the federal funds for emergency fire-fighting personnel for           
 fire prevention and other activities.  He added that the language             
 would also allow them to use state money, if appropriated, but                
 there is no money appropriated for that.                                      
                                                                               
  CHAIRMAN LEMAN  asked if the department is now doing any fire                
 suppression, hazard reduction, fire prevention, habitat                       
 restoration, etc., without this explicit authorization.   MR. BUS             
 responded they currently do certain forest management functions,              
 but they do not use emergency fire crews to perform these                     
 functions.                                                                    
                                                                               
  SENATOR HALFORD  questioned how this applies to the fire suppression         
 fund.   SENATOR LINCOLN  responded it is her understanding that the           
 fire suppression dollars are for just that; SB 201 clarifies that             
 the department can use and extend the federal funds for other                 
 related fire prevention.                                                      
                                                                               
 Number 322                                                                    
                                                                               
  CRAIG GOODRICH , State Fire Marshall, Division of Fire Prevention,           
 Department of Public Safety, testifying from Anchorage, said the              
 state of Alaska expends between $350,000,000 and $400,000,000 a               
 year on fire and fire suppression related issues, a portion of that           
 being wild land.  He said he thinks it is very easy to overlook the           
 value of fire prevention efforts and activities, and he can see               
 nothing in this bill that does more than allow for that to happen.            
 The bill does nothing but benefit the residents of the state and              
 those bush communities.  He voiced support for the legislation by             
 the department, the State Fire Chiefs Association and the State               
 Fire Fighters Association.                                                    
                                                                               
  RAY SHINN , Director of Natural Resources for the Chitna Traditional         
 Village Council, as well as manager of the Taslina Hot Shots,                 
 testified from Glennallen in support of SB 201.  He said this is              
 something they have been doing for the past 15 years, and there are           
 numerous spin-off benefits when something like is done with the               
 emergency fire-fighting crews throughout the state.                           
                                                                               
  TOM BOUTIN , State Forester, Division of Forestry, Department of             
 Natural Resources, related there are 73 of the 16-person emergency            
 fire-fighting crews in the state.  The Division of Forestry manages           
 46 of them and the balance is managed by the Bureau of Land                   
 Management's Alaska Fire Service.  Also, the Fire Service has two             
 20-person hot shot crews, as well as Ray Shinn's type one crew.               
 Each crew is autonomous; the 16-person crew is normally from a                
 single village.  The average wage, including overtime, paid to                
 emergency fire fighters in 1995 was $12.76 an hour.                           
                                                                               
 He pointed out that these fire-fighting crews are also sent outside           
 the state where there is much demand for them when there is a high            
 fire season.  The reports the division gets from the Lower 48 is              
 that these crews are very hard working, well trained, cost                    
 effective and very safe.                                                      
                                                                               
 Mr. Boutin also noted that these crews are called out on a                    
 rotational basis, so no one agency's crews are favored.  He said in           
 concept and in practice, that probably should eliminate the concern           
 that anybody might have that it's an incentive for someone to                 
 originate a fire in order to get work since the rotational basis              
 would mean that a crew in one part of the state wouldn't                      
 necessarily be the crew that would fight a fire in that part of the           
 state.                                                                        
                                                                               
  CHAIRMAN LEMAN  asked how Alaska's crews compare with crews outside          
 of Alaska.   MR. BOUTIN  related that a report comes back with every          
 single incident, and the Lower 48 states and the federal agencies             
 really can't say enough good about the crews that are sent out.               
 Some crews were sent to the Yukon this past year and the governor             
 and commissioner received letters back saying what a good account             
 those people gave of themselves.                                              
                                                                               
 Number 470                                                                    
                                                                               
  SENATOR HALFORD  said in the first section of the bill the exemption         
 for the personnel is basically an exemption of the whole State                
 Personnel Act and that exemption is based on the emergency nature             
 of fire fighting, etc.  He expressed concern about going around the           
 personnel act for essentially year-round employees doing year-round           
 work, and he wondered if the Department of Labor had looked at this           
 legislation.   SENATOR LINCOLN  replied that she thinks the language          
 added in the committee substitute addresses his concern, and that             
 there was some involvement by the Department of Labor in the                  
 legislation.                                                                  
                                                                               
  SENATOR HALFORD  asked if there is a way to draft the legislation so         
 that it would cover only federal money.   MR. BOUTIN  responded that          
 there is, but in order to use state money, there would have to be             
 an appropriation made by the legislature.                                     
                                                                               
  SENATOR FRANK  said his only concern is that some previous governors         
 have declared emergencies and then had the authority to spend any             
 monies in the state treasury, as well as municipal monies.   MR.              
 BOUTIN  clarified the intent is to be able to use these emergency             
 fire fighters, which are the 16-person autonomous crews, for work             
 in addition to fire suppression as there might be a demand out                
 there, such as the prescribed burn on the Kenai moose range.                  
                                                                               
  SENATOR HALFORD  said there is a special mechanism that allows the           
 fire suppression fund to go forward outside of its own limits and             
 outside of the amount of money that's there, and he and Senator               
 Frank are concerned that there not be an automatic appropriating              
 mechanism attached to this bill.   SENATOR LINCOLN  reiterated that           
 this was not the intent of the legislation and she does not read              
 the language that way, but if there was a way to modify the                   
 language to address their concern, she would not have a problem               
 with that.    SENATOR FRANK  pointed out the bill would be going to           
 the Finance Committee and they could take a closer look at it                 
 there.                                                                        
                                                                               
 Number 545                                                                    
                                                                               
  SENATOR TAYLOR  moved that CSSB 201(RES) be passed out of committee          
 with individual recommendations.   CHAIRMAN LEMAN  objected and               
 stated he wanted to hold the bill until the next meeting in order             
 to take a closer look at the fiscal notes because there is question           
 as to whether they meet the requirements for fiscal notes on bills.           
  SENATOR TAYLOR  withdrew his motion to pass CSSB 201(RES) out of             
 committee.                                                                    

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