Legislature(2009 - 2010)BELTZ 211

02/10/2009 09:00 AM Senate STATE AFFAIRS

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09:08:02 AM Start
09:10:10 AM SB45
09:26:36 AM Confirmation Hearing: Faith Peters – Human Rights Commission
09:34:30 AM SB45
09:43:41 AM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Confirmation of Governor's Appointments
Moved CSSB 45(STA) Out of Committee
        SB  45-VETERANS' CEMETERIES/FUND/LICENSE PLATES                                                                     
CHAIR MENARD announced the consideration of SB 45.                                                                              
SENATOR MEYER  moved to adopt  the committee substitute  (CS) for                                                               
SB  45, labeled  26-LS0277\S as  a working  document. Hearing  no                                                               
objection, version S was before the committee.                                                                                  
9:10:10 AM                                                                                                                    
CHARLIE HUGGINS,  Senator, Alaska State Legislature,  pointed out                                                               
a photo of Grant Frasier, who served  as a Marine in Iraq and was                                                               
killed in action.  His mother, Sharon Long,  was present. Senator                                                               
Huggins also introduced  Joe Fields, an airborne  trooper who has                                                               
discussed the issues included in SB 45 with Senator Huggins.                                                                    
SENATOR HUGGINS  said there are  two national  veteran cemeteries                                                               
in Alaska. The one in Sitka  can't be expanded for much more than                                                               
10  years.  There  is  one  in  Fort  Richardson  that  may  have                                                               
unlimited expansion.  There are  more cremations now,  so perhaps                                                               
both  have a  longer  life. SB  45 deals  with  a state  cemetery                                                               
whereby  the  state  supplies the  land,  the  federal  Veteran's                                                               
Administration builds it,  and the state operates  it. The fiscal                                                               
note is  $250,000 annually  for operations  starting in  2012. It                                                               
may be a low estimate, he said.                                                                                                 
9:12:37 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR HUGGINS  said that  in the budget  for the  Department of                                                               
Military  & Veterans  Affairs (DMVA)  there is  $750,000 for  the                                                               
cemetery  application process  to the  federal government.  SB 45                                                               
also  allows a  fund from  veteran  license plate  sales, and  it                                                               
expands the state's  veteran hiring preference to  members of the                                                               
National  Guard. He  noted that  the  community of  Bethel got  a                                                               
grant to  create a local  cemetery with a veteran  component. But                                                               
SB 45  will have  the federal  government build  one. "It  is the                                                               
wave  of the  future." Florida,  for example,  is building  state                                                               
cemeteries at a rapid rate and  can't stay ahead of the mortality                                                               
rate of veterans.                                                                                                               
9:14:41 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  KOOKESH asked  the difference  between a  veteran and  a                                                               
prisoner of war (POW).                                                                                                          
SENATOR HUGGINS  said a person can  be a prisoner of  war without                                                               
being  in the  military. In  military culture,  veterans who  are                                                               
POWs have higher stature.                                                                                                       
9:15:46 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR KOOKESH asked if the bill defines a POW.                                                                                
SENATOR HUGGINS said he doesn't know.                                                                                           
CHAIR  MENARD asked  if  members  of the  National  Guard can  be                                                               
buried in the national cemeteries.                                                                                              
SENATOR HUGGINS said, yes, if they are veterans.                                                                                
9:16:48 AM                                                                                                                    
GENE  THERRIAULT, Senator,  Alaska  State  Legislature, said  the                                                               
bill doesn't define  a POW, but he expects that  it is defined in                                                               
state regulations  and in  the U.S. code.  In order  to construct                                                               
the cemetery, Section 9 requires the  state to adhere to the U.S.                                                               
codes with regard to who can  be interred. Alaska has the highest                                                               
number  of veterans  per capita  in  the nation.  Of the  600,000                                                               
Alaska  residents,  100,000  are  veterans, and  it  is  becoming                                                               
difficult to  obtain burial  plots. The  purpose of  SB 45  is to                                                               
have a veteran's cemetery in  the Interior to avoid traveling 350                                                               
miles  to  Fort  Richardson.  Fairbanks has  the  second  densest                                                               
population of veterans in the  state. It is centrally located and                                                               
a hub  for many villages.  It is  close to Fort  Wainwright, Fort                                                               
Greely, Clear Air Force Station, and Eielson Air Force Base.                                                                    
9:18:46 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR THERRIAULT estimated that  15,000 veterans will pass away                                                               
in the  next 10 years in  Interior Alaska. About 50  percent will                                                               
seek to be buried in a  veteran cemetery, and at least one family                                                               
member for  every two veterans  will seek  to be buried  there as                                                               
well. That means  1,125 people may be seeking burial  in the next                                                               
10 years. The demand is growing across the nation.                                                                              
SENATOR THERRIAULT  said Section  1 of the  CS allows  funds from                                                               
veteran license plates to be  deposited yearly by the legislature                                                               
into the  veteran's cemetery fund.  That is  permissive language,                                                               
and the  legislature would  have to  make the  appropriation each                                                               
year. Section  2 allows  the state to  accept gifts  to establish                                                               
and maintain the  cemetery. Section 3 creates  the Alaska veteran                                                               
cemetery fund  as a  subaccount in the  general fund.  Sections 4                                                               
through  8 deal  with veteran  hiring preference.  The DMVA  said                                                               
there was  an issue with  the current hiring  preference language                                                               
that  needed to  be  clarified. It  is not  an  expansion of  the                                                               
hiring preference,  but just a  redrafting. Section 9  allows the                                                               
DMVA to  establish a veteran's  cemetery according to  U.S. code.                                                               
The CS moved a reference to that  code up to the beginning of the                                                               
section. "We wanted to make it  very clear that we are doing this                                                               
in  accordance  with  federal  requirements"  and  following  the                                                               
federal regulations on where a veteran cemetery can be placed.                                                                  
9:22:31 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR MENARD asked if it relates to the population.                                                                             
SENATOR THERRIAULT said,  yes, U.S. code speaks to  how close the                                                               
nearest other cemetery is and what the population is.                                                                           
SENATOR KOOKESH asked  if the fund will be available  for the two                                                               
national cemeteries and the Bethel cemetery.                                                                                    
9:23:31 AM                                                                                                                    
MCHUGH PIERRE,  Legislative Liaison,  Department of  Military and                                                               
Veterans  Affairs,   said  the  cemeteries  in   Sitka  and  Fort                                                               
Richardson  are national  cemeteries with  no state  obligations.                                                               
Both  allow veterans  to fully  realize benefits  that they  have                                                               
earned.  The   Bethel  cemetery   was  built  for   veterans  and                                                               
nonveterans, and  it does not  meet the federal  requirements, so                                                               
veterans may not  receive their full benefits if  they are buried                                                               
there.  The Fairbanks  cemetery  will meet  all requirements  and                                                               
will give veterans all of their burial benefits.                                                                                
9:25:01 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR KOOKESH said the bill says cemeteries, not cemetery.                                                                    
MR. PIERRE said there could be  more in the future, but Fairbanks                                                               
is  the only  area of  the state  that currently  qualifies under                                                               
federal  rules --  and it  barely qualifies.  Veteran Affairs  is                                                               
almost making an  exception for Alaska because  the population is                                                               
so small. But Fairbanks does exceed  the 75 miles radius from any                                                               
other cemetery. Veteran Affairs wants  a cemetery within 75 miles                                                               
of every major veteran's establishment,  and Fairbanks meets that                                                               
qualification, but the population is extremely low.                                                                             
9:25:51 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR MENARD  briefly set  aside the  bill until  the end  of the                                                               
committee meeting.                                                                                                              
        SB  45-VETERANS' CEMETERIES/FUND/LICENSE PLATES                                                                     
9:34:30 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR MENARD returned attention to SB 45.                                                                                       
SENATOR  FRENCH  asked  why improvements  are  necessary  in  the                                                               
veteran's preference statutes.                                                                                                  
MCHUGH PIERRE,  Department of Military  & Veterans  Affairs, said                                                               
it is  not an improvement,  but a clarification and  a regrouping                                                               
to  put  veteran  hiring  language   together.  There  isn't  one                                                               
specific  location in  the statutes  dealing with  veteran hiring                                                               
preferences. It will make it  more clear for personnel staff. The                                                               
Alaska  Veterans   Advisory  Council  put  forth   this  idea  of                                                               
consolidating "all  of the issues that  are on the books  ... and                                                               
what veterans do receive if they apply for state jobs."                                                                         
9:36:53 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR FRENCH noted  the lines being taken out on  Page 6 of the                                                               
bill. He asked if the language is reincorporated elsewhere.                                                                     
MR. PIERRE said he can't give those details.                                                                                    
NICKI NEAL,  Director, Personnel and Labor  Relations, Department                                                               
of Administration, said the way she  reads the bill, it is simply                                                               
clarifying  the language.  "Everything  that's  being deleted  is                                                               
just restated in a simpler form - more understandable."                                                                         
9:38:10 AM                                                                                                                    
PAT LUBY, Advocacy Director, AARP,  Anchorage, said that AARP has                                                               
many veterans. One  of the greatest honors given to  a veteran is                                                               
a  final resting  place  in a  veteran's  cemetery, and  families                                                               
prefer  one nearby.  SB 45  will  offer many  veterans and  their                                                               
families  that   opportunity  in  the  Interior.   AARP  strongly                                                               
supports  the   bill.  As  a   veteran  himself,   he  personally                                                               
encouraged passage of the bill.                                                                                                 
9:39:15 AM                                                                                                                    
JOE  FIELDS,  Vice  Chair,   Alaska  Veterans  Advisory  Council,                                                               
Fairbanks, said  he is  speaking as  a citizen.  He is  a Vietnam                                                               
veteran. The cemetery  is supported by every veteran  that he has                                                               
met  in  the  past  40  years. "How  it  weighs  against  veteran                                                               
services for living veterans may  be a different story." Veterans                                                               
have been  seeking a  cemetery in  the Interior  for a  very long                                                               
time.  It has  been a  struggle to  erect memorials  there. "It's                                                               
taken a  long time  to bring around  a generation  that generally                                                               
looked fairly  unfavorably on us  from Vietnam." This is  part of                                                               
rectifying that, and it brings proper honor to veterans.                                                                        
SENATOR PASKVAN said  he's known Mr. Fields for 35  years, and he                                                               
has worked on veteran issues that entire time. He commended him.                                                                
9:40:58 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  MEYER moved  the committee  substitute (CS)  for SB  45,                                                               
labeled    26-LS0277\S    from    committee    with    individual                                                               
recommendations and the attached fiscal note. Hearing no                                                                        
objection, CSSB 45 (STA) moved out of committee.                                                                                

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