House proposes tougher sentences in new crime bill targeting drug dealers, car thieves and sex offenders

(Photo by Carole Triem)

The House Judiciary Committee rolled out a new crime bill on Wednesday that pulls pieces from other crime bills proposed by Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy and other legislators.

House Bill 145 calls for tougher penalties for some tiers of crimes as well as reworked laws targeting drug dealers, repeat drug offenders, car thieves and identity thieves. It also proposes a variety of changes to sex offenses and procedures for testing rape kits.

Attention in the House turned to crime after it passed the operating budget, and the House Finance Committee is midway through a week packed with overview hearings on the criminal justice system.

The governor’s attention has also turned to crime with a renewed threat of special session if Legislature doesn’t act on a slate of his bills aimed at repealing large portions of recent criminal justice reform laws.

The legislation introduced today stops well short of adopting the governor’s full agenda, particularly when it comes to his proposals for parole, probation and pre-trial procedures, but it contains some significant changes aimed at getting tougher on crime.

What it does

There’s dozens of changes proposed in House Bill 145, and they can be roughly lumped into the following categories: increased sentencing ranges, increased penalties for theft, new tools to go after drug dealers and closing loopholes with sex offenses.

Sentencing ranges would increase under the bill, but not by as much as the governor proposed in House Bill 49/Senate Bill 32, which had proposed returning to the pre-Senate Bill 91 ranges. Here’s what HB 145 would do:

  • Increases presumptive range for class B felonies from 0 to 2 years to 90 days to 2 years. Dunleavy had proposed 1 to 3 years.
  • Increases maximum sentence for class A misdemeanors from 30 days to 90 days. Dunleavy had proposed 1 year.
  • Increases maximum sentence for class B misdemeanors from 10 days to 30 days. Dunleavy had proposed an increase to 90 days.

Dunleavy’s bill would put more people behind bars for longer, requiring a roughly $41 million price tag for the state’s prison budget. The financial impacts of House Bill 145 have not yet been completed.

The bill rolls in another House proposal that would make possession of car theft tools a crime akin to possessing a burglar’s tools, a class A misdemeanor. It also allows prosecutors to bundle together thefts that occur within 180 days of each other.

It would also repeal the inflation proofing for multiple different property crimes, thefts and first-degree car theft.

On the sex crimes front, the bill specifically requires that sex offenders from other states be registered as sex offenders in Alaska. During the meeting, it was noted that public urination is considered a sex offense in some states but is not a sex crime in Alaska. To that end, the bill also includes a provision that would allow people registered as sex offenders in other states to appeal to have their names removed from the registry if the underlying offense is not considered a sex crime in Alaska.

It would also remove marriage as a defense in cases of rape and sexual assault when the victim is incapacitated or unaware of the sexual act.

The bill also picks up provisions setting out new requirements for the collection and testing of drug kits, requiring that they be transferred to a lab within 30 days, tested within one year and that victims be notified of the results within two weeks.

The final slate of major changes relates to Alaska’s drug laws and are generally targeted at the state’s ongoing opioid, heroin and meth epidemics.

Though many top-level drug cases are handled by the feds, the bill would add a new tier of drug offenses—a class A felony—for drug dealers dealing in large quantities of drugs like opioids, heroin and meth. It’s one of a slew of changes that are described as improved tools for federal prosecutors on drug crimes.

What will likely be the most controversial provision of the drug-related charges is a proposed provision that would make repeat convictions of misdemeanor-level drug possession of opioids, heroin or meth into a class C felony. The administration had proposed tougher penalties on first-time convictions as a tool to extract information on higher level dealers.

Many states, Alaska included, have moved away from tough, life-disrupting sentences for drug uses in favor of easier sentences that encourage substance abuse treatment.

This provision was proposed by Rep. Chuck Kopp, an Anchorage Republican and former law enforcement officer, who said, “it’s introducing a higher level of accountability.”

It would also create an enhanced felony sentence for anyone making meth in a home where children live.

Other significant changes include a provision clarifying that the court has wide discretion in whether to award credit for time served on electronic monitoring while awaiting sentencing, which was an issue in the infamous no-jail sentence in the Justin Schneider case.

What’s next

With three weeks remaining in the 121-day legislative session, the committee has planned an aggressive timeframe for the bill. House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, said he plans to hold public testimony on the bill on Thursday with amendments due to be taken up on Friday.

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1 Comment on "House proposes tougher sentences in new crime bill targeting drug dealers, car thieves and sex offenders"

  1. You have to wonder if increasing prison terms will dissuade criminals. In all reality, it seems unlikely the people committing these crimes will even know about these changes. It seems like the legislature is merely doing these things to feel like they’re actually doing something.

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