Legislature(2009 - 2010)BELTZ 211
02/19/2009 09:00 AM STATE AFFAIRS
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 79-MED BENEFITS OF DISABLED PEACE OFFICERS CHAIR MENARD announced the consideration of SB 79. SENATOR MEYER moved to adopt the committee substitute (CS) to SB 79, labeled 26-LS0389\E, as a working document. Hearing no objection, Version E was before the committee. 9:04:06 AM TREVOR FULTON, Aide to Senator Lesil McGuire, Alaska State Legislature, said the changes in the CS are outlined in an accompanying legal memo. The two questions that came up last week were who was included in this legislation and if it can be retroactive. The drafter explained that it is explicit in statute as to who qualifies as a peace officer. The CS also makes the bill retroactive to July 1, 2006, "so anybody who may have slipped through that gap should be covered." 9:05:28 AM SENATOR KOOKESH asked who pays the premium if it is waived. The insurance company doesn't belong to the state. The insurance company is not going to do it out of the goodness of its heart. MR. FULTON said it is his understanding that what is being waived is the state's payment of those premiums. So if the disabled individual chooses to continue the coverage, he or she will have to pay that premium. SENATOR PASKVAN said it is the other way around. If there was no change, the officer would have to pay the personal premium if he or she was disabled during the gap. Under SB 79 the peace office will not have to pay the premium. It will be paid by the state because of the disability in the line of duty. 9:07:09 AM MR. FULTON said he misunderstood the question. Senator Paskvan is correct. SENATOR KOOKESH asked if the premiums are included in the fiscal note. MR. FULTON said he believes they are. Pat Shier compiled the fiscal note, and he can speak to that. SENATOR MEYER asked for clarification that village public safety officers (VPSOs) and dispatchers are not included in this. MR. FULTON said he doesn't know. SENATOR KOOKESH said VPSOs are not state employees; they are independent contractors with the nonprofits around the state. Eventually he wants to get them into the state benefit system. 9:08:59 AM KEVIN BROOKS, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Administration, Juneau, said correctional officers are included in P-retirement, but dispatchers are not. VPSOs as contractors are not included, but it is conceivable that a VPSO could work for a municipal or state PERS employer. SENATOR KOOKESH said VPSOs are all employed by non-profits. MR. BROOKS said, in that case, they will not be covered. 9:10:42 AM SENATOR PASKVAN said there had been a question of adding correctional officers and firefighters, but he does not see them expressly included in the language. MR. BROOKS said he worked with Senator McGuire. Current statutes identify who is in P-retirement, and by referencing that statute it includes correctional officers in Title 39. SENATOR PASKVAN said the referenced statutes include law enforcement officers, correctional officers, and firefighters. MR. BROOKS said that is the definition section in statute that clearly lays those out. Regarding the question of who pays, the state self-insures. There is a health premium for active employees that covers the cost of claims. When a person retires, it is factored into the retirement rates determined by actuaries. That is the $570,000 present value in the fiscal note, "and that would be reflected at increased rates over time to cover the costs that the actuaries estimate would be impacted by this piece of legislation." MR. BROOKS said he checked to see if anyone has fallen through the cracks and found four inquiries to the Division of Retirement and Benefits. One went to an appeal and was denied. He doesn't know how many people did not inquire. Mr. Brooks would like a discussion on what defines a disability. One example of an actual case was a firefighter who had an allergic reaction to the masks required in his job, "and under the definitions, he's disabled for that line of work but able to do all the other functions of the job." The statute and rules create a disincentive to try and find gainful employment for that individual. This person was very interested in working. He couldn't wear the mask, but he could carry the weight and do all other parts of the job. Disability can be a tragic injury in the line of duty, but there are other types of disabilities. Getting a person back to work would hold down costs. There are a lot of barriers to reemployment. 9:16:00 AM SENATOR PASKVAN said there was a discussion about adding correctional officers and firefighters to the language, and he wants to confirm that they will be covered with this CS. DAN WAYNE, Attorney, Legislative Legal Services, Alaska State Legislature, said the definition in AS 39.35.680 covers the whole chapter including this statute. The definition of peace officer includes "a long list of folks including firefighters." It is unambiguous. By adding names, it might create the impression that some others will be left out. Rather than moving the whole definition into the statute, the standard practice is to have the statute rely on the definition. SENATOR PASKVAN said he is looking at AS 39.35.680 (30) and sees the specific definition. "I want to make sure that we're following that." JOHN CYR, Executive Director, Alaska Public Safety Employees Association, Anchorage, said his association supports the bill. The problem has affected at least one of its members. SENATOR KOOKESH said this hearing establishes a record. He asked if anyone opposes the bill. MR. FULTON said no one has expressed opposition to his office. SENATOR MEYER asked if the administration supports SB 79. 9:21:27 AM MR. BROOKS said it is neutral on the bill because of the cost and the debate regarding pension funds, but it recognizes the need to address this gap. There is a cost involved and Alaska is billions of dollars underfunded in these pension funds. 9:22:22 AM SENATOR MEYER moved to report the CS to SB 79, labeled 26- LS0389\E, from committee with individual recommendations and attached fiscal note(s). There being no objection, CSSB 79(STA) moved out of committee. The committee took an at-ease at 9:23 a.m.