AKLEG Day 44: Senate Republicans say no rubber stamp for Dunleavy’s criminal justice rollback

Sens. Mike Shower and Peter Micciche listen to a presentation during a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing on Feb. 13, 2019. (Photo by Alaska Senate Majority Press/Flickr)

Today is Day 45, halfway through the voter-created 90-day session. There are “45” days left, and Senate President Cathy Giessel has publicly acknowledged that being done in that time is unrealistic.

Slow roll the rollback

The Republican-led Senate Majority struck a surprisingly measured tone on the rollback of criminal justice reform on Wednesday when they pledged to take their time on a broad slate of legislation proposed by Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy targeting Senate Bill 91.

With the Senate Chambers to their back, tough-on-crime Sens. Mike Shower and Shelley Hughes said that they wouldn’t be signing off on the bills without first giving them a thorough review even if that means delaying the final passage of the legislation beyond the current session.

Dunleavy has proposed four crime bills and legislators like Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, have also proposed legislation targeting loopholes raised in the high-profile sex assault case that led to a judge getting the boot from voters.

Shower, who chairs the Senate State Affairs Committee that current has three of those bills, said he’d like to see them passed quickly, but said he can’t in good conscience rush them.

“They touch a lot of things and there could be unintended consequences, so what I think you’ll find what we’re looking at in the Senate as we go through this process is to break those down and one of the intents is to slow this down as much as we need to make sure we’re not just rubberstamping bills that come from the administration,” he said.

The senators also softened their tone on Senate Bill 91, the criminal justice reform bill that has become the much-maligned target of public’s frustration over a rise in crime that began well before the law came into effect.

“I think there’s a common misperception that crime was low prior to Senate Bill 91 by some people–that’s not the case. Crime was very high, and our trends were up,” he said. “One of the intents (of Senate Bill 91) was to try to lower crime, but I would argue–and I think the data supports–that SB 91 in a lot of ways has not helped. It does not mean every part of it was bad.”

Asked about the timeline for the legislation, Hughes said they’re still in talks with the House, but they would like to get it done in the current session. She said there’s more support for closing loopholes as proposed by Micciche’s legislation and believes it could get done this year, but was more measured in the rest of the legislation.

Shower echoed the sentiment.

“One of the goals is to slow this down and get it right. I’m more interested in making sure the process is getting followed so that we do not making a mistake,” he said. “As small as they are compared to SB 91, they’re still big.”

One of Dunleavy’s bills would increase many sentences for a variety of crimes putting more Alaskans behind bars for longer. It alone is estimated to increase the prison population to the tune of about $41 million per year.

A public hearing on two of those crime bills in the Senate Judiciary Committee that was scheduled for Thursday night has been canceled.

Public hearing on PFD repayment

Shower’s Senate State Affairs Committee doesn’t just have crime on its agenda. It also is home to Dunleavy’s PFD repayment bills, Senate Bills 23 and 24, and will be taking public testimony on both at a public hearing starting at 6 p.m. tonight.

Legislators have become increasingly skeptical about the payments because they add additional risk that the Alaska Permanent Fund’s earnings reserve account could be depleted under bad market conditions. The money that would have been paid out under those payments is also continuing to earn money for the state to the tune of about $100 million to $125 million a year.

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