AKLEG Day 49: Sexual assault bill targeting ‘Schneider loopholes’ advances in Senate

The Senate Judiciary Committee during its Jan. 6, 2019 hearing. (Photo by Alaska Senate Majority press)

The 49th day of the Alaska legislative session is in the books. Here’s what happened.

Crime bill advances

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Sen. Peter Micciche’s Senate Bill 12 out of committee with some changes that broadened the bill’s scope in relation to the no-jail sentencing of Justin Schneider, a man who faced no jail time for kidnapping, strangling and ejaculating onto a woman in 2017.

The case was so outrageous that the judge—who approved the no-jail plea deal, saying “This can never happen again”—was booted off the bench by voters in the 2018 elections.

A number of factors beyond just the judge were at play with the case: The state’s definition of sex assault didn’t include unwanted contact with semen; Schneider was actually sentenced to a year in prison but was able to avoid it because he spent the year before the plea deal was reached on electronic monitoring; and prosecutors didn’t contact the victim before approving the plea deal.

Micciche said the bill intends to address all those loopholes, adding that a section requiring prosecutors contact victims about pending plea deals was suggested by former Judge Michael Corey.

“This is one case where we really have caught all of the loopholes in the Justin Schneider case, which is what this bill’s about,” he said. “The public was appalled. As the father of four daughters, with a wife and sisters and female friends, I was appalled. I think we covered that.”

The legislation would do the following, borrowing pieces from legislation proposed by Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy:

  • Ends the ability to apply time served on electronic monitoring to a post-conviction sentence in all cases, sex-related or not.
  • Adds “knowingly causing a victim to come into contact with semen” to the definition of “sexual contact” in relation to sex offenses, which would have required Schneider to register as a sex offender (he did not have to under current law).
  • Increases penalties for sex offenses where strangulation occurs. It also creates additional enhancements for both assaults and sex offenses when a dangerous weapon is used.
  • Adds requirement for prosecuting attorney to make “a reasonable effort” to check with the victim of a felony sex assault about a pending plea deal.

Sen. Jesse Kiehl offered an amendment that would have preserved the credit for time served on electronic monitoring in cases where a sex offense isn’t involved. The amendment was defeated 4N-1Y.

The bill’s next stop is the Senate Finance Committee. At a crime-focused news conference last week, the Senate leadership said this bill is the top priority out of a myriad of crime bills this session.

‘Not making any sense’ emotion

After some consternation about whether the Office of Management and Budget would allow department commissioners to talk to legislators about their budgets, Department of Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price appeared in front of the Senate Public Safety subcommittee on Monday night.

(It didn’t look like the House subcommittee on the Department of Education got the same treatment earlier in the morning, however.)

While Price was able to speak about some of the policy impacts the budget would have on the Department of Public Safety (which is one of the few areas where the governor has signaled his willingness for increased spending), she was unable to answer questions about some of the reasoning behind the budget.

Why did the Wildlife Troopers get changed into a two detachment model? “I do not know the reason,” Price said. Why is the Alaska Bureau of Highway Patrol rated as “ineffective?” Price would have to check.

Price did say the combining the detachments covering Soldotna and Juneau was going pretty well, something that Soldotna Sen. Peter Micciche was skeptical of.

“You talked about something not making any sense and you may have triggered my ‘not making any sense’ emotion,” he said.

The committee also discussed the elimination of state funding for the Civil Air Patrol, a volunteer group that helps with search and rescue in Alaska.

Sen. Mike Shower, who’s a U.S. Air Force veteran, stepped in when the administration was unable to answer a question about whether the elimination of the service might spike the budget’s search and rescue costs.

“You would be losing what is an exceedingly cheap and relatively effective service if the state had to bear that,” he said. “It’s really small to fly those little airplanes.”

Sen. Bishop launches poll

Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, has put out his own poll through the Alaska Senate Majority. It asks about capping the PFD, an education head tax (which he has proposed), ANWR and some mega projects among a few other items. Check it out here.

Senate passes ‘narrowly focused and carefully constructed’ pro-ANWR resolution

The Senate passed a pro-ANWR resolution 16-2 on Monday that seeks to essentially be the Legislature’s unified public comment on the ongoing environmental impact statement on oil production in the 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Because it’s addressed to the EIS and not Congress, Sen. Chris Birch argued, the Republican majority rejected an amendment that would have sought to push for an Alaska hire provision. Another that would have sought the original 90 percent royalty payments to the state was withdrawn.

Republicans had a harder time explaining why an amendment by Sen. Donny Olson that would have added concerns about the Porcupine Caribou herd, which is very much part of the EIS process, should be excluded from the bill.

Birch argued against any changes, arguing the resolution had already been put together with consultation with the administration (which kind of defeats the purpose of an independent Legislature, but whatever).

Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, argued that the concerns for the herd “more likely belong as local comments rather a statewide statement.”

Olson, who represents the North Slope, was upset.

“If I was on the other side, what I would say is Alaska, the Legislature in particular, is not serious about the some of those things like the statehood act, the 90-10 split and the issues in this amendment,” he said. “The short-sightedness will catch up with us. … I don’t think that we’re trying to build a cohesive type of body within the state of Alaska.”

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