October 31, 2003
Murkowski, during a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources National Parks Subcommittee, said the legislation (S. 1364) is named for Lucy O'Hara, the widow of National Park Ranger Tom O'Hara, who lost his life on Dec. 20, 2002 while assigned to Katmai National Park and Preserve.
The family, his wife and three children moved to the Anchorage area this summer from Naknek, a move that cost about $14,000 given shipping costs. While federal law currently pays for the relocation of the family of a permanent federal employee who dies in Alaska after having been sent to Alaska from the Lower 48, there is no provision to pay relocation expenses for those Alaska workers employed under terms of an Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act local hire program.
The bill would authorize the federal government to reimburse the surviving head of household of such employees for their relocation expenses within Alaska. The local hire provision, which covered O'Hara, allows agencies, like the National Park Service, to hire local Alaskans non-competitively because they have special expertise or knowledge about a particular park, wildlife refuge or forest. But the law did not provide those workers the same permanent employment status and benefits as employees hired under competitive processes outside of Alaska.
"This legislation is intended to set things right. It puts the families of ANILCA local hire employees, like Tom O'Hara's family, on an equal footing with those of career NPS employees imported to Alaska from the Lower 48. This bill won't make much of a difference to the federal treasury, but it will make a big difference for a family that already has made an extreme sacrifice," said Murkowski. "This small bill will have a big impact on one family, but it could also help any number of families, if God forbid, in the future if they face a similar tragedy," she said of the legislation that is still awaiting full committee review.
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