House passes crime legislation, would roll back large portions of SB 91

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The Alaska House of Representatives passed crime legislation Wednesday that the House majority says would repeal and replace Senate Bill 91.

The House minority stood firmly against that perception saying an amendment introduced by the House majority would “water down” efforts to improve public safety.

The debate on the house floor Wednesday afternoon was heated with House minority leader Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, calling the process "terrible."

House Bill 49 passed with no member of the minority voting in support of it. Earlier in the week, Pruitt had said he could potentially give his support for the bill that was sent to the floor from the House Finance Committee.

A wide reaching amendment was offered by the House majority on the House floor that would change provisions relating to sentencing, violating conditions of release and using marriage as a defense against sexual assault.

House minority members were frustrated, saying the process was being rushed and they should have time to review the proposal.

“This is 19 pages, it might have some of the most brilliant stuff in the world, but I don’t really understand what’s in here,” said Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, who doesn’t sit with either caucus, as she held a copy of the amendment.

Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, one of the amendment’s authors, said there were no new concepts in the amendment and that “everything in here as been gone over ad nauseum in (the) House Finance Committee.”

One-by-one minority members stood in opposition to the amendment and a perception that the amended bill would “water down” proposed reforms made to criminal justice.

“We have a responsibility to the people, I would never have thought that keeping the people of Alaska safe was a partisan issue,” said Rep. Sharon Jackson, R-Eagle River.

The House majority amendment was approved by a 23-15 vote along caucus lines with LeDoux voting against.

On Monday, the governor gave his tentative support to the crime bill heading to the House floor saying that “it would be acceptable to us at this stage of the game.”

The governor had warned that if the legislation changed by amendment in the House that it may not enjoy his continued support.

"Yes," said Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, to the question of whether the governor was on board with the changes made to the crime bill. "We're working extremely closely with the administration with this."

After the vote, Matt Shuckerow, the governor’s press secretary, would not definitively say if the bill had the governor’s support but he said that the administration was happy that the process to improve public safety was moving forward through the Legislature.

The governor hoped the bill could continue to be strengthened in the Senate, said Shuckerow.

The governor’s office would review the changes made by the House but Shuckerow said the administration was happy to see that the four main elements of the governor’s crime bills dealing with sentencing, sexual assault, probation and parole and pretrial were included in the House’s bill.

House Bill 49
The bill would increase presumptive sentencing ranges for Class A and Class B felonies along with increasing the maximum sentence for all Class A and Class B misdemeanors.

"Alaskans spoke loud and clear, and we responded by repealing and replacing Senate Bill 91," Wilson said in a news release. "Everything in House Bill 49 is tough on criminals and particularly targets repeat offenders."

The bill abolishes the mandatory probation sentence for first- and second-time drug convictions. For most illegal drugs, judges would be able to sentence first and second-time possession offenders up to one year in jail.

An offender convicted a third time of possession results in a felony punishable by up to two years in prison.

Wilson said the legislation would strike a balance between people seeking treatment and those "who had no desire to make a difference."

The bill also creates a new crime for the possession of motor vehicle theft tools. In order to be convicted, an offender would have to both possess tools commonly used to steal a vehicle and demonstrate intent to steal a vehicle.

"A key tenet of our criminal justice reform is continually looking for improvements to our laws and ways to make Alaska's communities safer," Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, said. "In addition to this bill, we continue to work on other proposed policy changes, and the House Majority budget invests in public safety and continues our commitment to making wise use of public safety funds."

The bill still needs to be passed by the Senate and receive final approval from the governor before becoming law.

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