Dear Friends and Neighbors,
This special session has been intense and eventful. Here is a summary of what’s happened so far.
Criminal Justice Reform Updates from the 4th Special Session
Knowing that protecting citizens is one of the primary duties—if not the primary obligation—of a government, I’ve been devoting most of my waking hours to the criminal justice legislation currently before the Alaska House of Representatives.
Since arriving in Juneau, October 19 (days before this fourth special session began) I’ve devoted 8-12 hours a day to digesting all the details on all 123 pages of the infamous SB91. To scrutinize that bill took me, an attorney and former prosecutor, 40 hours. But I was happy to commit that time, because to represent you properly I must know SB91 very thoroughly.
Of course, I’ve heard the public outcry about increased crime. How could I not? But, I was deeply troubled about SB91 long before that outcry began. When the legislature debated SB91 in 2016, I offered 13 amendments on the Floor and was the only member of my caucus to vote against it. I was convinced then, as I am convinced now, that SB91 treated criminals with kid gloves.
Not all of Alaska’s recent uptick in crime can be attributed to SB91. Our weak economy and opioid epidemic share some blame, but toughening our response to crime should help stem the tide. That’s why I’ve been so engrossed in the topic, engaging frequently with the Alaska Departments of Law, Public Safety, and Corrections so that I understand all aspects thoroughly.
One of the many reasons I opposed SB91 last year was that it prevented judges from sending anyone convicted of a Class C felony to prison. SB54, the bill the House is currently debating, fixes that and stiffens consequences for shoplifting and other “petty” theft.
Completely repealing SB91 is like trying to stop a tanker in mere seconds—there’s just too much momentum; too many departments have begun overhauling their methods. Repealing SB 91 would seriously disrupt our criminal justice system, cram our prisons jam full, and further burden our out-of-balance budget. Fixing SB91 by beefing up and passing SB54 is the better approach, and that’s what I’m working very diligently to do.
Thus far, I’ve offered up 5 amendments for a vote, two of which passed. By a 10-1 vote, the Anchorage Assembly last month asked the legislature to do what my Amendment #10 accomplishes.
Note that for text below: BLUE = failed; GOLD = passed
I also voted for the following amendments offered by my colleagues:
Debate on SB54 will likely continue for days, and I will be offering further amendments.
Increasing sentences, probation, and parole should help dissuade crime, but will cost the state more, and we must commit adequate funding to police, prosecutors, treatment and recidivism-prevention programs. One of the reasons the legislature passed SB91 was to reduce government spending—that’s still imperative—but we didn’t strike the right balance, and we reduced consequences before we got treatment and pre-trial services established, not after, as we should have. I’m willing to spend more to protect our citizens and their property.
As the legislature was crafting our skimpy capital budget this spring, I advocated successfully for using some of it to fund Anchorage Police Department training academies.
I’ll do my best to keep you all updated as things progress here in Juneau.
If you have a topic or event that you would like to see in my next newsletter, feel free to get in touch with me or my staff. Please make note that my office will be based in Anchorage until January.
And as always, please call or email with any thoughts, ideas, or concerns.
I Answer to You!