AKLEG Recap, Day 113: Senate unveils surprise omnibus crime bill fixing key issues

(Photo by Carole Triem)

As if Tuesday wasn’t busy enough with the passage of a bill to restructure the Alaska Permanent Fund to pay for government, the Legislature also unveiled a big new crime bill while the Senate passed the capital budget and the initiative buster. Here’s what happened and what to expect.

Just eight days left in the 121-day session.

New crime bill

Rumors that the Legislature was working on an omnibus crime bill became reality on Tuesday night when the Senate Rules Committee introduced a massive rewrite of House Bill 312. Rep. Matt Claman’s legislation that would make it a crime to attack medical caregivers picked up several other bills by Gov. Bill Walker aimed at cleaning up the state’s criminal justice reform. House Bill 312 itself isn’t a surprise, but the addition of all the other bills is.

Those include:

  • Senate Bill 145/House Bill 291 that gives the Attorney General greater power to classify controlled substances in order to more quickly respond to fast-evolving drugs like bath salts, spice and synthetic marijuana.
  • Senate Bill 150/House Bill 295 that requires the courts to consider an offender’s out-of-state convictions when assessing whether or not to release someone while awaiting trial and also gives judges greater flexibility in deciding whether to keep someone in custody.
  • Senate Bill 149/House Bill 294 that doubles the surcharge fines for various state and municipal crimes. Felony surcharge is raised to $200.

An actual version of the changes or new bill have not been posted directly online, but was sent out with a Alaska Senate Majority press release about the changes. We’ve posted it here.

The bill has been scheduled for a vote in the Senate.

The updated legislation addresses a narrow scope of concerns with criminal justice reform, specifically the pre-trial release and risk assessment tools that have recently made headlines, but stops well short of the call to repeal criminal justice reform entirely.

The positioning of the bill means that the last opportunity for amendments will be on the relatively disciplined Senate floor, only giving the more rowdy House (at least when it comes to crime) an opportunity to vote on concurrence.

Capital budget

The Senate approved the capital budget restoring funding to the controversial Knik Arm Bridge and Juneau Access Road projects

The Juneau Empire reported that the Juneau Access Road project is essentially receiving back some $21.3 million that was taken from the project in last year’s capital budget, and it’s unclear just what it means for the project. Gov. Bill Walker cancelled the project among many other capital projects and didn’t have a comment on Tuesday about the potential to restart the project.

Sen. Anna MacKinnon, the Eagle River Republican who oversees the capital budget, told the paper that many in the Senate felt both projects would have helped the economy.

“The major projects that were paused are something that at least some members of the Senate believe could have helped Alaska’s economy at this particular point in our history, if we would have advanced those projects,” she said.

The minority Democrats did get a win on Tuesday with the approval of an amendment by Sen. Bill Wielechowski that adds $100,000 for community safety patrol grants for Anchorage. The money can specifically go to “gas cards, decals, radios and safety equipment.” The amendment was approved unanimously and joins a slew of other last-minute increases to public safety funding that include:

  • $2 million for the Alaska State Troopers for “crime prevention and response and equipment.”
  • $2 million for the Anchorage Police Department for “crime prevention and response and equipment.”
  • $75,000 for other community watch program grants.
  • $2.5 million to address the state’s backlog of rape kits.

The capital budget still doesn’t include the money Gov. Bill Walker requested to set up a 911 call center.

The budget now heads to the House for consideration, which held public testimony ahead of receiving the budget on Tuesday.

Initiative-buster passes

The Senate passed Rep. Jason Grenn’s House Bill 44 on a 13-6 vote on Tuesday. The legislation as amended by the Senate is expected to knock the Government Accountability Act initiative, which both Grenn and Midnight Sun Publisher Jim Lottsfeldt back, off the general election ballot.

The initiative and HB 44 would cut off per diem if legislators don’t pass a budget by the end of the 121-day session, limit foreign influence in state elections, put stricter limits on meals lobbyists can buy legislators and strengthen the Legislature’s conflict-of-interest rules.

The bill still needs to return to the House for a concurrence vote and a title change.

Senate Bill 26

Here’s how legislators voted on Senate Bill 26, the governor’s proposal to restructure the Alaska Permanent Fund to pay for government. The vote, particularly in the House, broke a lot of political lines (Alaska Senate Majority and Alaska House Majority Coalition members are in bold).

Senate

Yeas:  Bishop, Coghill, Costello, Egan, Giessel, Hoffman, Kelly, MacKinnon, Meyer, Micciche, Stedman, Stevens, von Imhof

Nays:  Begich, Gardner, Hughes, Olson, Wielechowski, Wilson

Excused:  Shower

House

Yeas:  Birch, Claman, Edgmon, Foster, Gara, Grenn, Guttenberg, Johnston, Josephson, Knopp, Kopp, Kreiss-Tomkins, Lincoln, Millett, Ortiz, Pruitt, Seaton, Spohnholz, Stutes, Talerico, Thompson, Wool, Zulkosky

Nays:  Chenault, Drummond, Eastman, Johnson, Kawasaki, Kito, LeDoux, Neuman, Parish, Rauscher, Reinbold, Saddler, Sullivan-Leonard, Tarr, Tilton, Tuck, Wilson

Is the smoke-free workplaces bill, Senate Bill 63, scheduled for a vote in the House?

No, but Senate Bill 64 has.

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