Crime Reform Bill Passes in the House
Dear Friends, Neighbors, and fellow Fairbanksans:
Late Monday night around midnight the House passed SB 54, which was designed to fix SB 91, the crime and sentencing reform omnibus bill passed by the Legislature in 2016. I am glad that SB 91 was passed and for the most part it does what it was supposed to do. Although, in some areas we may have gone a bit too far. Overall, I believe that these bills will reduce crime and make Alaska a safer place.
SB 91 has come under a lot of criticism lately and is being blamed for a recent uptick in crime, especially in the Anchorage area. I feel some of this blame is unfair, as the uptick has been going on for a few years, before SB 91 was passed. There are many complex causes to the crime uptick that are also being experienced in other states. Factors contributing to crime include our recent opioid epidemic, our declining economy, and the lack of proper funding for prosecutors.
That being said, SB 91 did have some problems and SB 54 fixed them. The overall purpose of SB 91 was to reform how we deal with low-level and non-violent criminals. Numerous studies have shown that keeping a person under state control for long periods of time creates a cycle of recidivism, doesn’t lower crime rates, and is also expensive and will create a need for more prisons if we continue down the same path.
SB 91 reduced sentences in many cases, increased the use of parole and probation, and put an emphasis on getting proper treatment and rehab to the many criminals being arrested with substance abuse problems and mental health issues and also put in programs to help released individuals secure housing and work. Similar reforms have been introduced in other states with much success. Results include lower recidivism rates, smaller prison populations, lower crimerates, and budget savings.
Another big change brought about by SB 91 was a new type of pre-trial officer who keeps tabs on offenders and helps ensure they show up for court dates as well as other commitments. This allows us to drastically lower our pre-trial prison population, which has skyrocketed in recent years and contributes to high costs for our State.
The savings from sending fewer persons to prison and for shorter times are used to fund other programs necessary to keep this new approach working. We need to properly fund rehab and treatment programs and also the courts and police so they can properly process those committing crimes in the first place.
To summarize, the most important provisions in SB 54 included:
What’s Next for SB 54?
Now that SB 54 has passed the House, it will travel back to the Senate for their review. A few amendments got added to SB 54 that may have a non-reform affect. These amendments will hopefully get addressed before the bill goes through final passage.
We’ve heard from many people about the problems with SB 91 and we addressed those problems in SB 54 including how to deal with repeat offenders of low-level theft (under $250). However, an amendment that allows 5 days of active jail time for first-time offenders of this type of theft and another amendment increases the penalty for a first time C-felony up to 0-2 years. Both of these changes are well beyond the recommendation of the experts. It also may have legal problems since 0-2 years is also the sentencing for 2nd time offenders. The cost of these two changes alone is significant and will have budget repercussions.
Next Up This Special Session: The Governor’s Payroll Tax
Aside from SB 54, Governor Walker’s Payroll Tax remains on the agenda during this 4th Special Session. HB 4001 calls for a 1.5% tax on wages and self-employment income, and is capped at $2200 or twice the PFD amount the previous year - whichever is larger. No other state has an income tax that is capped, and even with passage of this bill Alaska would still have the lowest taxes in the nation. The tax would raise about $300 million, with 15% of that coming from non-resident workers.
It’s possible the House and Senate can still come together on a long-term solution to our budget crises before this special session ends. I hope the Senate gives this bill serious consideration. It’s encouraging that Senate Finance has at least scheduled a hearing on this bill for tomorrow, November 9th.
As always, please feel free to reach out to me with your thoughts and questions. We will send out another update as these bills move along and pass.