Governor signs 'folk festival bill' into law

Measure allows courts to order restitution for cost of time consumed in uncovering embezzlement

Posted: Sunday, June 01, 2003

Juneau accountant and Alaska Folk Festival volunteer Jim Grammel said it took months to figure out how much money another volunteer embezzled from the organization that runs the annual spring music event.

So when former festival treasurer Jim Demers was convicted of theft, the organization's board of directors tried to collect restitution for the cost of the time Grammel and others put into going through the paperwork.

The law wouldn't let them, because the work was done by volunteers. One of the bills Gov. Frank Murkowski signed last week changed that.

"I'm happy to see that the bill passed because a lot of boards are in a similar position," Grammel said.

House Bill 23, authored by Juneau Republican Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, allows courts to order restitution for such work, even if it's done by volunteers. Grammel noted the benefit goes to the criminal when nonprofit groups are prevented from collecting full restitution.

"If the board turned around and said, 'We want to pay you for your time,' then we would have gotten paid the restitution," Grammel said.

Demers was charged in 2002 with stealing at least $13,000 from the organization and eventually was sentenced to about six months in state custody. Demers also was ordered to pay restitution of up to $24,000, but an appeals court dropped $5,000 that would have gone to the organization for the time spent uncovering the crime.

Other bills signed by Murkowski last week included:

• Senate Bill 123 eliminates a requirement that the state conduct annual reviews of the amount of money it provides families that adopt or serve as guardians of hard-to-place children. Savings are estimated at $185,000 in state general funds and $85,000 in federal funds.

• Senate Bill 108 eliminates the Medicaid Rate Advisory Commission. The Murkowski administration asked for the legislation, which administration officials said would allow the department to set a more flexible, cost-effective rate-setting process.

• Senate Bill 115 allows the state to use money generated from the state's prison industries program to pay the salaries of correctional officers who oversee the program.

• Senate Bill 120 limits compensation for injured state employees who work on watercraft by putting them under the state workers' compensation program. Currently, seamen can file legal claims under the federal Jones Act, an avenue not available to other state employees hurt on the job. The administration has said the difference in coverage results in nearly 75 percent higher costs for claims filed by those workers.

• House Bill 159 reduces the frequency of state audits of small loan companies to be consistent with that required for banks and credit unions. The bill also eliminates one state audit of the Commercial Fishing and Agricultural Bank, which is still subject to other audits. The administration estimates the bill will save the state $126,000 a year.

Empire reporter Timothy Inklebarger contributed to this article.

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