March 13, 2014 House Community & Regional Affairs Committee Hearing on HB 317

On Thursday morning the House Community & Regional Affairs Committee (CRA), heard HB 317 for the first time and held the bill. 

Sponsor Rep. Chris Tuck reviewed HB 317 for the committee.  From the sponsor statement:

Every student should be able to get to and from school safely, no matter what type of school they attend.

“The safety and well-being of all Alaska's children should be our top priority. School zones are essential regardless of the type of school or the funding it receives. Charter schools are public schools and it is shocking that Alaska doesn't already require mandatory school zones to be in place around charter school buildings,” said Joey Eski, chair of the Academic Policy Committee for Aquarian Charter School.

In response to public and parent concern, this legislation brings increased safety precautions to all our schools to ensure the well-being of every child. House Bill 317 will require the installation of schools zones for all public, private and religious schools, while still allowing the discretion for the municipality on the location to place signs, speed zones, lights or other measures where appropriate.

Drivers should be alerted wherever children are present in large numbers and at risk. By requiring school zone markings at all school locations, we will slow traffic, improve students’ safety in the vicinity of a school, and hopefully prevent tragic accidents.

This bill would also require a sign indicating these school zones are drug free school zones.

Rep. Tuck then reviewed the different sections of HB 317.  Under Section 1, regulations adopted by the Dept. of Transportation & Public Facilities must include provisions for the posting of official traffic control devices at schools and in school zones.  In Section 2, HB 317 states that municipalities shall post traffic control devices at schools and in school zones.  Section 3 is the definitions section. 

Rep. Foster asked about the fiscal notes.  Rep. Tuck said DOT/PF could explain the fiscal notes.  There are annual maintenance costs, and some capital expenditures. 

Connie McKenzie, legislative liaison, Dept. of Transportation & Public Facilities, reviewed the fiscal notes.  The department has prepared three fiscal notes: one for each region.  Traffic engineers looked at several sources for information.  About 30 percent of all schools are on state-owned roads.  Some already have some signage. Others have no signage. 

Chair LeDoux asked if currently DOT/PF has signs around neighborhood public schools, but not for charter schools.  Ms. McKenzie said there aren’t currently school zone signs at every public school.  They work with school districts and municipalities in determining what signs are necessary. 

Chair LeDoux asked if they discriminate against charter schools.  Ms. McKenzie said she doesn’t know if there is signage at any charter schools or not. 

Rep. Foster asked if HB 317 will be a cost to DOT/PF, but not schools.  Ms. McKenzie said that’s correct. 

Rep. Foster asked about schools in villages; who would pay in that situation?  Ms. McKenzie said they only estimated costs for the 30 percent of schools on state-owned roads, which would be the state’s responsibility. 

Rep. Kito asked if DOT/PF identified which schools already have signage.  Ms. McKenzie said they estimated that 139 schools would need some sort of signage.  They did that through calculations, not through an analysis of existing signage. 

Chair LeDoux wondered how much HB 317 would cost municipalities.  If it costs the state $20 million for 30 percent of schools, could they presume it will cost municipalities $40 million or more?  Ms. McKenzie said she can’t answer that question.

Rep. Kito said he would like fiscal note numbers on the record.  It will cost a little over $200,000 for the southeast region.  Ms. McKenzie said those are the operating costs.  The capital costs come to about $19 million. 

Chair LeDoux said she’s trying to figure out how much HB 317 will cost municipalities.  Rep. Tuck said a lot of public schools already have signage, but there isn’t any for charter schools or private schools, and that’s what HB 317 addresses.  There is nothing in statutes requiring any type of signage for schools, even public schools.  HB 317 ensures that wherever it’s practicable, they make sure safety zones are set up. 

Kendra Kloster, staff to Rep. Tuck, said in looking at the fiscal notes, DOT/PF specified flashing lights.  But villages might not need big, expensive lights.  Many schools may have just a sign that people are entering a school zone.  Some of the roads, such as in Juneau, already have flashing lights and signs.  In Anchorage there are charter schools on busy roads, and they were told by the municipality that they didn’t need to put up signage because they don’t have student busing.  Parents and principals have been trying to slow down traffic without success and with no help from municipalities.  She wants to make sure that they don’t need big expensive lights where they aren’t needed.  The fiscal note reflects the most expensive option.

Chair LeDoux asked if there are communities where they won’t need signs at all.  Ms. Kloster said they just want to make sure people are aware of where schools are so they slow down.  They have heard that there is speeding by schools in rural communities also.  Chair LeDoux said she had communities in her former legislative district with only 50 people; she can’t imagine they would need signs.  Ms. Kloster said only organized municipalities would need to have signs. 

The hearing continued on for almost another hour.  The committee took public testimony on HB 317.  One Anchorage parent of two charter school students testified that the Alaska Native Cultural Charter School moved to a more permanent location this fall.  The municipality determined that there was no need to have 20 mile per hour signs at the school, which is located on a busy, four-lane, 35 mile per hour road.  She said she fully supports HB 317, because it removes the subjectiveness from the process of determining where signage is needed.  Another Anchorage parent testified that her 13-year-old daughter was killed in 2003 in Anchorage right outside her school, which had no signs identifying the area as a school zone.  She worked to get the street marked after that, and was given many excuses why it couldn’t happen.  She understands that there is a lot of opposition to HB 317 from DOT/PF and municipalities.  She urged them to look in on their children when they are sleeping and think of how they would feel if something happened to them.