HB 312 ends mandatory release for defendants & allows out-of-state criminal histories

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - A crime bill passed through the Alaska legislature Friday that removes instances when a judge must release a defendant on their own recognizance and allows judges to consider out-of-state criminal histories when determining bail conditions.

House Bill 312 contains a vast array of provisions that also impact how the Attorney General classifies controlled substances:

Mandatory release changes & out-of-state-criminal histories
A controversial aspect of Senate Bill 91 was the development of a pretrial assessment tool that uses data to determine a person’s chance of offending while they wait for their trial. Part of that tool was a mandatory provision that required judges to release defendants charged with either low-risk class-C felonies or low-risk and moderate-risk misdemeanors.

Opponents of SB 91 have argued that this system empowered criminals to keep offending without risk of jail time.

HB 312 gives judge’s discretion when to keep a person in custody for low-level offenses but keeps that as presumptive, meaning it’s presumed that suspects would be released on their own recognizance.

Casey Reynolds, the communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska (ACLU), has problems with the provision arguing that it seems to take the position that people accused of a crime belong behind bars. “It’s our position that you shouldn’t be imprisoned until a jury of your peers found you guilty of a crime.”

Reynolds and Rep. Matt Claman, D- Anchorage, who was one of the central drivers behind the bill, spoke about some of the successes that the pretrial assessment tool and the pretrial enforcement division had experienced. Both men say there is evidence that offending rates before a trial had dropped off precipitously in the last few months.

One part of the bill that has seeming universal support was the closing of a loophole that prevented judges from considering out-of-state criminal histories when determining bail conditions.

"I'm extremely thrilled that the sign that said, "come to Alaska, all of your criminal records from other jurisdictions don't matter," that sign is down now," said Rep. Lora Reinbold, R - Eagle River.

More protection for medical workers
The bill allows police to arrest suspects who are accused of committing misdemeanor assault without a warrant, before the bill passed that was only allowed for felony assaults.

Becky Hultberg, President and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, says year-after-year hospitals are reporting that medical workers have been assaulted by patients on drugs, frustrated family members, people with behavioral conditions or sometimes just people who have had to wait a long time for care.

Change how Attorney General classifies controlled substances
“New drugs frequently come into the illicit drug market before the legislature has had the chance to enact legislation targeting those specific drugs. For example, drug traffickers can change one chemical component of a drug, thereby removing it from our controlled substances list, as has been seen with certain synthetic opioids recently such as spice,” writes Jahna Lindemuth, the Alaska Attorney General.

HB 312 changes that, giving the Attorney General the ability to schedule a controlled substance by emergency regulation if that substance is currently listed on a federal controlled substance schedule.

Then state would then have three years to criminalize the drug by statute before the regulation expired.

What happens now?
The bill passed overwhelmingly through the House before passing unanimously through the Senate and then back through the house for concurrence, only Rep. David Eastman, R - Wasilla.

Sen. Kevin Meyer, R – Anchorage, was responsibly for leading many of the criminal justice reform changes that appeared in the Senate version of the bill that passed Thursday.

He was also thrilled by the passage of the bill and said it was unusual for a bill to enjoy such widespread, bipartisan support across both houses. "You've got to think that this bill is pretty good."

HB 312 now heads to Gov. Walker’s desk who signaled that he would sign it.

“I’m proud and grateful today knowing HB 312 is headed to my desk. I’ve worked hard to address the concerns of Alaskans from Kake to Kotzebue on public safety, and I know legislators have, too,” Walker said. “This is a critical improvement to the quality of our justice system, reinforcing our work building a safer Alaska.”