NEWS: Alaska Legislature Passes Update to Criminal Justice Reform

Rep. Matt Claman

Senate Bill 55 Protects Local Control, Addresses the Backlog of Sexual Assault Kits, and Out-of-State Protective Orders

May 17, 2017

Juneau – Today, the Alaska Legislature continued ongoing criminal justice reform efforts by passing a bill containing vital improvements and clarifications to recent statutes. Senate Bill 55, carried in the House by Representative Matt Claman (D-Anchorage), is the next step in a process that began four years ago during the Parnell administration when Alaska began actively reevaluating the way we handle crime. This process was started in an effort to slow and reverse the ballooning costs of corrections which were contributing little to public safety. The goal is to reduce Alaska’s high recidivism rate and focus corrections funding and ‘hard beds’ on the worst and most violent offenders; both improving public safety and containing a growing budget driver.

Along with a variety of strictly technical updates, Senate Bill 55 reaffirms local jurisdictions’ control over traffic and a variety of non-criminal fines. Another key clarification is for the treatment of youthful, first-time, non-violent offenders, ensuring that courts have reasonable discretion in sentencing.

In addition to building on specific efforts of the past four years, SB 55 was amended in the House to require a statewide audit of untested rape kits, part of an ongoing reform effort of how the state processes rape kits.

“We know DNA evidence can get dangerous criminals off our streets. The first step is completion of a statewide audit so we know the real number of untested rape kits,” said Representative Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage) who originally sponsored the measure. “By conducting a statewide audit, we can begin the process of ending the backlog.”

In a similar vein, legislation was rolled into SB 55 to enforce out-of-state protective orders without first requiring that they be registered in an Alaska court. This change brings the State into compliance with Federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) requirements. Despite passing the Alaska House of Representatives in March by a 38-2 vote, the standalone bill languished in the Senate Rules committee.

“Today we took out three birds with one stone. Each measure includes common-sense improvements to public safety that enjoyed very broad bipartisan support in the House,” said Rep. Claman. “These were not partisan or ideological measures, just corrections, clarifications, and improvements to existing laws that will benefit public safety in Alaska.”

Senate Bill 55 passed the Alaska House of Representatives today by a vote of 37-2. The bill was then sent back to the Alaska State Senate who concurred with the House changes by a vote of 17-0. SB 55 will now be sent to Governor Bill Walker for his signature.

For more information, contact Alaska House Majority Coalition Deputy Press Secretary Drew Cason at (907) 575-2068.


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