AKLEG Day 9: Dunleavy rolls out four bills targeting criminal justice reform

Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy describes his anti-crime legislation at a news conference on Jan. 24, 2019. (Photo by Dunleavy administration)

Just “81” days left.

Dunleavy delivers on anti-crime (and anti-criminal) pledge

Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy rolled out his proposed slate of anti-crime and anti-criminal legislation on Wednesday. The four bills stop short of a wholesale repeal of the much-maligned Senate Bill 91—leaving in place, for example, the tougher penalties for murder that were made in the bill—and instead picked around the edges on things Dunleavy felt were too soft on criminals.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner has a thorough breakdown of the proposals, but they fall into four broad categories: Sex offenses (SB 35), classification of crimes and sentencing (SB 32), pretrial and bail procedures (SB 33), and probation and parole (SB 34).

At least two of the proposed changes address the no-jail sentence for the sexual assault committed by Justin Schneider—the details of the case were so outrageous that the deal eventually lead to the defeat of the judge who approved it.

It will classify unwanted contact with semen as a sex offense with an increased penalty and also reworks how time served on electronic monitoring pretrial can be applied to the sentence (Schneider was sentenced to a year in prison, but was able to avoid it because he spent the year awaiting trial on electronic monitoring).

There’s certainly some good changes in this legislation (ones that would have been made regardless of who was in office, if we’re being honest), and it’s really yet to be seen how the rest of proposals will change things. The Alaska Criminal Justice Commission, which helped draft SB 91 and its subsequent revisions, was locked out of the process in formulating these bills.

Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, was concerned about the potential financial cost of the bills, particularly when it comes its impacts on the state’s prison population.

“The public has not given us a blank check,” he told the News-Miner.

Though most people shied away from talking about it with Senate Bill 91, the state’s growing prison population—and the real possibility the state would need an additional prison—was a factor behind the bill. When asked about the impact on a growing prison population, Department of Corrections Commissioner Nancy Dahlstrom retreated back to the “all options are on the table” line that’s been used multiple times.

Earlier in the year, Department of Corrections said that could include private prisons.

Dunleavy said he was interested in providing avenues for rehabilitation for drug users, but didn’t commit to any specifics during the presser.

HSS. Comm. Crum promises to follow the law

Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum, who’s been blasted for his lack of direct experience in the health care industry, pledged to the Senate Health and Social Services Committee follow the law and constitution even when it comes to conflicts between his personal views on abortion and the law.

“This is going to sound boastful, but I have a very good degree from one of the best schools in the world that is science-based,” he said. “Yes, I believe I can do this job.”

That degree would be a Master of Science in Public Health from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Long-time anti-abortion Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, had this to say:

“It sounded like some of the testimony today was really revolved around reproductive rights and abortion. That’s really the Legislature’s job to answer that question,” he said. “I think you answered it very well.”

Crum was advanced from the committee.

The Raven Bill

Sen. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, has introduced Senate Bill 28 on Wednesday to name the common raven as Alaska’s state bird, replacing the Alaska Willow Ptarmigan.

It, of course, sparked a hearty discussion about “frivolous” bills when such serious things are going on. Can the Legislature really do two or more things at once? Who knows, the House is having trouble doing a single thing at once.

I’d argue that bills like this can serve as a helpful exercise in building the interpersonal relationships in the Legislature needed to tackle the tough things, but a reader sent in another good point.

A lot of these kinds of legislation are an excellent entry-point for young Alaskans to learn about and be involved in the legislative process. A lot of previous bills like one naming the moose as Alaska’s land mammal was introduced on behalf of a class of sixth graders from K-Beach Elementary School in Soldotna. You can dive back into the Marmot Day legislation to find tons of adorable letters by kids writing in support of naming the day.

Also, legislators (at least the more connected ones) frequently introduce legislation on behalf of constituents. Not everything will go anywhere, but it’s an important connection between the public and the process that legislators can help facilitate.

Tweet of the day

A little levity during an otherwise alarming budget presentation.

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