ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The State Central Committee of the Alaska Republican Party has overwhelmingly voted to withdraw support for SB-91 and call for a full repeal of the controversial criminal justice reform bill.
"The party was united that SB-91 has not accomplished anything that it was set out to do," said Tuckerman Babcock, the Chairman of the Alaska Republican Party.
Babcock said the State Central Committee has voted 92 percent in favor of withdrawing support and calling for the repeal of SB-91.
"We tend to be a feisty group of individuals," said Babcock. "It’s unusual to have such unanimity on any resolution – 92 percent was about as united as it gets."
State Senator John Cogill (R – North Pole), who spearheaded the passage of SB-91, says he is “disappointed” by the State Central Committee’s decision but understands that “the word SB-91 is a political thing that has come to mean things to people that it doesn’t really mean.”
Coghill says the crime issues facing Alaska are unacceptable and SB-91 was designed to combat them.
Although he’s disappointed, Coghill says the difference between his viewpoint and the Central Committee’s may hinge on method: “Chances are I’ll agree with what they want done, chances are I won’t agree with their methods, which is the repeal of SB-91,” said Coghill.
According to the senator, the State Central Committee is looking for a single place to lay blame for Alaska’s crime issues. “There is misinformation and out-and-out falsehoods about SB-91,” said Coghill.
Coghill points to tackling drug use as a way to combat rising crime rates. “Some people believe jail time is the only option, some of us believe in looking at the causes,” said Coghill.
Babcock explains the State Central Committee of the Alaska Republican Party is not opposed to working within "the Senate Bill 54 process," Governor Walker’s criminal justice reform bill that is on the agenda for the upcoming fourth special session.
There are two ways to look at repealing a bill, says Babcock: Pick items that need to be amended, or repeal the bill entirely and then pass provisions that are still valuable.
"When faced with those two approaches, repeal the whole bill that was passed a couple of years ago and start fresh," said Babcock.
Coghill has sponsored SB-54 and SB-55 to reform SB-91 and says, among other reforms, he is looking to give the Department of Law greater tools to prosecute.
Babcock is careful to explain that the central committee are not legislators, and that they do not weigh in on specific provisions. Instead the committee recommends action they believe should be taken by state legislators.
Governor Walker's office said in a statement to Channel 2 that he is committed to criminal justice reform: "Governor Walker is committed to criminal justice reform to build a Safer Alaska. Senate Bill 54 and a complete fiscal plan are key components toward fulfilling that commitment," said Jonathon Taylor, Governor Walker's deputy press secretary.
Channel 2 reached out to the Alaska Democrats, they have not immediately responded. This article was amended to include comments from Senator John Coghill.