Hello Friends & Neighbors,
Things have moved quickly here in Juneau and yesterday a compromise bill on public safety was passed by the joint Conference Committee of three members from the House and three members from the Senate. We literally have a few day break while the staff at the Legislative Legal Department drafts the bill. When HB 49 was passed quickly out of the Senate there were some errors in the bill and now that we are in the final version of the bill it is critical that many eyes approve this almost 100 page document. I’m excited to get to come home for the weekend and host a constituent coffee to catch up on this bill and the remaining items of this year – the operating and capital budgets and the amount of the PFD. Please join me tomorrow, Saturday, May 18th at 10:00 am at Yes Bistro at 3801 DeBarr Rd. Coffee and breakfast snacks are on me!
I thank my colleagues from the House, Rep. Matt Claman, Rep. Chuck Kopp, and Rep. Lance Pruitt and Senate colleagues Senator Hughes, Senator Shower, and Senator Wielechowski for their work to craft this comprehensive legislation. I was working closely with my colleagues on this bill because there are so many implications for public safety, for our neighbors, and for our budget. It is imperative that we keep dangerous people off of our streets, but it is also true that treatment and mental health services must be improved and that staffing remains a chronic issue that law enforcement professionals tell us is because of our poor retirement system that allows other states to hire away our folks after just five years.
This bill repeals and replaces the remaining parts of SB 91, but it’s so much more than that. It creates new crimes like the crime of possession of vehicle theft tools to crack down on vehicle theft and it contains my HB 20, the next phase of Rape Kit Reform. It also contains several other provisions related to domestic violence, sexual assault, and child sexual abuse that I fully support.
My HB 20 contained now in HB 49 does several things. This work is so important we make are making progress every year with systemic reforms. Never again will Alaska have a backlog of rape kits waiting to be tested. Never again will victims be denied justice because their rape kit was never tested. Never again will serial sexual assaulters go free because a rape kit sits on a shelf.
HB 49 will require law enforcement agencies send all sexual assault examination kits to a crime lab within 30 days of collection, that all kits collected are tested within one year, and that victims are notified within 2 weeks that testing is complete. This will help us take dangerous predators off the streets and bring justice for victims. This will require hiring additional staff for the crime lab which in turn strengthen criminal evidence processing for all crimes in Alaska.
Below is a summary complied by Senator Wielechowski for other provisions in the bill from his work on the Conference Committee.
Illegal Drug Abuse
90% of the crime committed in Alaska is substance abuse related. Under HB 49, drug trafficking and manufacturing penalties will increase. For simple drug possession, the first conviction for possession of a controlled substance will result in a class A misdemeanor and the second conviction within ten years will result in a class C felony. The Department of Law testified that this change will give law enforcement and prosecutors the tools they need to address substance abuse related crime.
Many in the public have expressed concern over light sentences for criminals. HB 49 increases the presumptive sentencing ranges for people charged with misdemeanors and felonies:
A person convicted of a class B misdemeanor can be sentenced up to 90 days in jail.
A person convicted of a class A misdemeanor can be sentenced up to a year in jail.
A person convicted of a class C Felony can be sentenced up to 2 years for the 1st conviction, between 2 - 4 years for the second conviction and 3 - 5 years for the third conviction.
A person convicted of a class B Felony can be sentenced up to 3 years for the 1st conviction, between 3 - 7 years for the second conviction and 6 - 10 years for the third conviction.
A person convicted of a class A Felony can be sentenced up to 7 years for the 1st conviction, between 10 - 14 years for the second conviction and 15 - 20 years for the third conviction.
Sex Crime Changes
Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault in the nation and that is unacceptable. HB 49 increases the penalties for a variety of sex crimes and makes important updates to existing law. The bill also deletes "online" from the crime of "online enticement of a minor" making any solicitation of a minor for sex a class B felony and an unclassified felony if the person has been previously convicted or the victim is under 13 years of age.
I was able to add an amendment that will allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to cancel a person's license if they have over $1,000 in outstanding moving traffic violations and are not making a good faith effort to pay those fines. This idea came to me from an East Anchorage neighbor who was severely injured in a car accident by a person who was talking on his cell phone and ran into her car. The person had dozens of unpaid traffic tickets and should not have been on the road. In fact, there are hundreds of people in Anchorage alone with dozens of unpaid tickets owing millions of dollars in unpaid tickets who are simply ignoring our laws. This new provision will help to keep dangerous drivers off of our roads.
This bill addressed several different issues with theft. To address shoplifting, we eliminated language that adjusted theft amount penalties for inflation. To address vehicle theft, we created a new crime of possession of motor vehicle theft tools. This provision will make it a crime to possess theft tools with the intent to steal someone's vehicle or the contents of someone's vehicle. Sentencing penalties for property theft were also increased.
Marriage Defense Repealed
Repealing current law, an offender can no longer rape their incapacitated or unaware spouse and claim marriage as a defense to the conduct. This is a needed fix to an abhorrent legal loophole.
Driving While License is Canceled, Suspended, or Revoked
Under the new law, a person driving with a canceled, suspended, or revoked license will be guilty of a crime when the reason for the cancellation, suspension, or revocation was itself a crime, such as driving under the influence or vehicular manslaughter.
I heard from many constituents and read countless stories of people breaking electronic monitoring devices while released on bail. HB 49 updates sections of the escape statutes to include removing, disabling, or tampering with an electronic monitoring device while on pretrial release. We also added language to the statute that includes violating curfews established as a condition of release.
There has been a growth of bomb and shooting threats in schools and other public places. We made the crime of making false terroristic threats a class C felony
Pretrial Risk Assessment
One of the public's biggest complaints with SB 91 was that it created a presumption for judges to release people accused of certain lower level crimes without posting bail if they scored low on a risk assessment. HB 49 repeals this section of SB 91 by eliminating the requirement that judges use the pretrial risk assessment when setting bail. The House and Senate agreed that a judge can only consider the use of the risk assessment tool when setting bail, but judges will have the discretion to set bail at whatever they see necessary to protect the public.
HB 49 reduced credits for "good behavior" that a person on parole or probation can receive. The bill also changes how the state will deal with violations of probation and parole. SB 91 set a cap on the amount of time a person could serve for probation or parole violations, and HB 49 removes these caps and gives discretion back to judges.
The bill also makes people ineligible for discretionary parole if they are found guilty of certain crimes. The bill also increases the amount of time a person must serve for serious crimes before becoming eligible for parole.
There is no doubt this crime bill will be very expensive to implement and will require us to reopen the Palmer Correctional Facility. But public safety is a top priority. Departments are estimating that it will cost $44.9 million this year and $56.4 million next year. The bill also adds new Prosecutors, Judges and Public Defenders.
All my best,
P.S. I hope you can join me tomorrow, Saturday, May 18th at 10:00 am at Yes Bistro at 3801 DeBarr Rd. Coffee and breakfast snacks are on me!