Returning to the Criminal Justice System Under SB 91 Dismisses the Public’s Call to Get Tougher on Crime

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 10, 2017

Juneau – With a vote earlier today, the Alaska State Senate jeopardized the stiffer criminal penalties included in Senate Bill 54 to respond to the recent spike in crime in Alaska. By refusing to fix constitutional problems with the bill through a conference committee, the Senate has guaranteed the bill will be litigated, which would leave in place the lenient sentencing guidelines included in last year’s omnibus criminal justice reform bill. 

“One amendment making changes to the sentencing range for first-time class C felonies will probably result in a legal challenge that could void all or some of the changes for stiffer penalties that are included in Senate Bill 54 to address crime in Alaska. By not addressing these changes demanded by Alaskans, the Senate is essentially turning back the clock on our efforts to clean up Senate Bill 91,” said House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Matt Claman (D-Anchorage). “I am surprised that the Senate concurred with a bill that has constitutional issues that we only learned about after the bill passed the full House of Representatives. Their decision undermines all the good work both bodies have done to move forward with justice reform and improve public safety.”

Attorneys with the Alaska Department of Law and the Public Defender Agency went on the record during today’s Senate Finance Committee meeting confirming that Senate Bill 54 will be challenged in court due to the changes made to some C felonies. Several legal experts believe the amendment in question violates the constitutional right to due process because it makes the penalty for some C felonies identical to the penalty for some B felonies. B felonies are considered more serious crimes. The due process concerns revolve around the requirement that criminal sentences match the actual crime.

Senate Bill 54 passed the Alaska State Senate in April by a vote of 19-1. The Alaska House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 32-8. The House version of the bill was sent to the Alaska State Senate for concurrence, which occurred today. After concurrence, the Alaska Senate voted to end the Fourth Special Session Sine Die without properly considering Governor Walker’s revenue proposal, which joined SB 54 as the two items on the agenda for the Fourth Special Session. However, the rules of the Alaska Legislature demand that the Senate return to session if the Alaska House of Representatives does not Sine Die within the next three days.

“What we witnessed today by the State Senate was an abdication of their responsibilities. They allowed a constitutionally flawed bill to be sent to the Governor and they worsened the ongoing recession and fiscal crisis by refusing to even consider a new revenue proposal,” said Speaker of the House Rep. Bryce Edgmon. “We can force the Senate back to Juneau but apparently we, and the Governor, can’t actually make them work.”

For more information, please contact Alaska House Majority Coalition Press Secretary Mike Mason at (907) 444-0889.

###