Governor says 'no deal' without crime bills, constitutional amendments

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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Last week, Gov. Mike Dunleavy took to social media to say there would be “no deal” without resolutions for his constitutional amendments and his crime bills.

The governor’s three constitutional amendments would enshrine the Permanent Fund Dividend in the constitution, impose a spending cap on the Legislature and require approval from voters to impose or raise taxes.

The amendments, moving steadily through the Senate, are currently being heard before the State Affairs and Judiciary committees in both chambers.

Separate from Dunleavy's proposals, bills to impose a spending cap and a new way to calculate the PFD were proposed by two Republican Senators on Friday.

Matt Shuckerow, the governor’s press secretary, extrapolated on the meaning of the “no deal” statement written by Dunleavy, saying that if lawmakers aren’t “willing to even hear these bills, not move something forward in a productive manner, the governor is not going to take that lightly.”

A timely reminder made for lawmakers as the operating budget makes its way to the House floor for votes on amendments and the governor's line-item veto power could soon become evident.

Shuckerow made clear that the administration is pleased with progress in the Senate but isn’t so happy with the House.

“We have heard all of the governor’s crime bills,” said co-chair of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Matt Claman, D - Anchorage, countering the perception that the House is being obstinate. “We’re looking at all those bills and are moving them on a steady path forward.”

Claman said statutory changes were needed to tackle crime, along with additional funding for drug and alcohol treatment and more prosecutors and troopers.

“We’ve seen the benefits in Anchorage of increased spending in the police department,” he said, referring to a recent drop in vehicle theft numbers. “We’re seeing safer streets in Anchorage as a result of that investment.”

On the Senate side, co-chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Shelley Hughes, R - Palmer, said the Senate Majority was also looking at increased funding for troopers and prosecutors.

On specific statutory measures, there was a wider gulf between the Senate and House Majorities.

The governor’s four crime bills would increase sentencing ranges, make possession of certain drugs a felony, target certain sex crimes and change procedures for people on probation and parole.

Hughes said the focus was making neighborhoods safe and ending the so-called “catch and release” system of putting parolees back on the street.

Two of the governor’s bills have been forwarded out of Senate State Affairs, along with Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche’s bill that would close the so-called "Schneider loophole."

Claman said House Judiciary was looking at taking elements of the bills put forward by the governor but noted that similar bills exist to tackle the same areas in law, for example, in the Schneider case.

He cautioned, though, against making hasty changes, particularly for the pretrial assessment tool, which was implemented in 2018.

“There’s a study we’ve already paid for from the University of Alaska Justice Center, it won’t come out 'til late June, it’s really important to get that information, to see how it’s working,” Claman said.

The governor’s proposal would see the pretrial assessment tool rolled back and a return to judicial discretion.

“I don’t see anything compelling about returning to a system with a 37 percent failure rate,” said Claman, who advocates for taking an “actuarial” approach to analyzing the risk of someone offending before they make it to trial.

Claman also questioned the estimated $43 million per year price tag of the governor’s crime bills, primarily for the added expense of housing an estimated influx of inmates.

Claman asked, in a tough budget climate, “Is that really a wise use of our resources?”

The governor’s legislation does not include additional funding for drug and alcohol treatment or additional funding for Alaska State Troopers. Claman highlighted the need for that additional funding to tackle crime.

Hughes signaled that could be a point of agreement across the aisle and across the chambers. She said that prisoners should get options inside Alaska with the hope that, “When they exit, they will be in better shape than when they entered.”

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