• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
4m 4s

Guns and Spice: Senate Judiciary Committee tackles two controversial bills

By Rhonda McBride 7:44 AM March 6, 2014

Lawmakers hear testimony on firearms and synthetic marijuana bills

JUNEAU – Should students be allowed to carry firearms on campus?  Should the state impose hefty fines for those possessing “Spice,” a form of synthetic marijuana?

The Senate Judiciary Committee weighed the pros and cons of two separate bills Wednesday afternoon.

One of those was SB 176, which would allow college students to carry concealed weapons on campus. Sen. John Coghill of Fairbanks is one of the main sponsors. One of his legislative interns, Hans Rodvik, advocated for the bill.

“Twice as many children are killed playing football in school than are murdered by guns,” said Rodvik, citing a national study.

Brian Judy, a National Rifle Association expert based in Sacramento, weighed in via telephone and concurred.

“The facts are, accidents regarding firearms are relatively rare,” Judy said.

Judy told lawmakers they will hear, time after time, predictions of horrors that will never materialize.

Had students at Virginia Tech been allowed to carry weapons, Judy said, more might have survived a gunman’s rampage in 2007.

Sen. Donny Olson of Nome questioned the maturity of college students.

“Many of these students are transitioning from adolescence post-high school to adulthood, and therefore some of their brain functions may not be fully developed,” Olson said.

Judy countered by pointing out that many college students are being recruited for military service.

“So if they can be trusted to join our military and carry firearms in defense of our country, gosh, I think that we should trust them to carry a firearm in defense of themselves,” Judy said.

The Judiciary Committee also heard from Cesar Martinson, a member of the University of Alaska Anchorage Political Science Association.

“Article I, Section 19 of our state constitution is very clear that the state, nor any political subdivision of it, can violate our right to keep and bear arms,” Martinson said. “The university policy regarding conceal-carry on campus is in direct violation of the state constitution.”

“This bill is critical to reversing that policy,” said Martinson, who argued that college students are able to carry guns legally elsewhere in the state, so why not on campus?

The NRA expert also told lawmakers the University of Alaska’s weapons policies violate not only the state constitution, but the U.S. Constitution as well.

The president of the state’s university system, Patrick Gamble, was seated in the committee room, but did not speak out. At a recent hearing, Gamble testified against the bill. He’s expected to testify again next week.

Earlier in the afternoon, lawmakers took testimony on SB 173, which attempts to close some of the legal loopholes on synthetic drugs.

The measure’s main sponsor, Sen. Kevin Meyer, told lawmakers that some of the earlier bills the Legislature passed — which criminalized possession of the synthetic drug known as “Spice” — have not been effective, mainly because drug manufacturers get around the law by changing the recipe, which has made it even more dangerous.

Meyer said SB 173 has a different focus. It imposes fines for possession of Spice.

“It’s a quick, easy way for our police to go in and cite the kids who may have it,” Meyer said. “I’m thinking, the bigger target here is going to be the sellers.”

The bill is modeled on an ordinance the Anchorage Assembly passed in January.

If the measure is signed into law, it will impose a $500 fine per packet of the synthetic drug. The bill would also allow the state to seize Permanent Fund Dividends should fines go unpaid.

The hefty fine, Meyer said, is a disincentive to use Spice, especially for sellers who typically stock packages of synthetic drugs by the dozens.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, (D) Anchorage, wondered if some communities would consider this “state overreach.”

“Should this be something that we leave to the individual communities to decide, especially when we have Wasilla, a large community that just rejected a similar piece of legislation as this,” Wielechowski said.

Meyer said the drug is so dangerous that a state law is needed to address it.

“A lot of kids think it’s a cheap way to get a high or a buzz,” Meyer said. “And it must be OK, because it’s legally sold. Parents think its OK, because it’s legally sold. But in reality, it’s not OK.”

Anchorage police, hospital emergency rooms and social service agencies have all reported cases of bizarre, psychotic behavior from Spice users. The drug has also been implicated in seizures and believed to be highly unpredictable, if not deadly.

Meyer told lawmakers arrests only clog the jails and court system – yet seem to have little effect in reducing Spice use. So far, he said, Anchorage police believe the new strategy is helping.

Meyer said that while cities around the country have passed laws similar to SB 173, Alaska would be the first state to attempt to reduce Spice use through hefty fines.

Latest Stories

  • Politics

    Alaska House takes up crime bill on day 105 of session

    by Liz Raines on May 02, 22:52

    It’s been 15 days since the legislative session was supposed to be over. Members of House leadership say they have to pass a budget before gaveling out, but they spent Monday working on a different measure. Senate Bill 91 would revamp the way the state approaches criminal justice. Gov. Bill Walker and Department of Corrections […]

  • Politics

    Legislature pursues Wells Fargo office space, says current LIO is ‘off the table’

    by Liz Raines on May 02, 21:48

    The Legislative Council voted Monday to negotiate buying the Wells Fargo building on the corner of Minnesota Drive and Benson Boulevard in Anchorage at an amount not to exceed $12.5 million. Sen. Gary Stevens, chair of the council, said purchase of the downtown legislative information office is now “off the table” after Gov. Bill Walker […]

  • News

    Anchorage students raise money for victims of Ecuador Earthquake

    by Alexis Fernandez on May 02, 20:33

    A group of Anchorage middle school students is raising money for the people most affected by the recent earthquake in Ecuador. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake killed more than 65o people in Ecuador’s northwest coast two weeks ago. Elizabeth Renteria’s Spanish class at Central Middle School is selling homemade bracelets for $1 as part of an ongoing […]

  • Sports

    Dimond High School hockey star signs to play college football

    by Jake Edmonds on May 02, 20:22

    When Chris Gardeline started playing hockey at eight-years-old, his goal was to one day make it to the college level. He never expected it would be on the gridiron. Gardeline was a goalie for the Dimond High School Lynx. After wrapping up his senior season on the ice, his football friends convinced him to join […]

  • Lifestyle

    Lasers replace traditional drills at local Anchorage dentist office

    by Lauren Maxwell on May 02, 20:05

    For some people, a trip to the dentist can be trauma inducing. Finding out you need a root canal or even a cavity filled isn’t fun, but what if you could have those procedures done without using needles or drills? One local dentist says it’s possible with lasers. Dr. Kirk Johnson has used lasers in […]

  • News

    Anchorage’s first food truck hub opens for summer

    by Shannon Ballard on May 02, 19:59

    Can’t decide where to eat for lunch? There are now several more options in downtown Anchorage. The city’s first food truck hub opened on Monday at the corner of Eighth Avenue and K Street. Known as “K Street Eats,” many vendors are hoping it will be boost to their business. Sugar House Waffles has been in […]

  • News

    Crews light fire to prevent fire on JBER

    by Bonney Bowman on May 02, 19:38

    Nearly 2,000 acres of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson land will go up in flames this week – all to prevent a potential wildfire this summer. Fire crews started the controlled burn Monday, setting fire to live-fire ranges in the Arctic Valley area. The ranges are like a tinderbox this time of year, full of dry grass […]

  • News

    Anchorage detox center temporarily suspends opiate addiction treatment

    by Alexis Fernandez on May 02, 19:22

    Alaskans addicted to opiates will have to wait a few days to detox in an inpatient environment. Alaska’s two opiate detox centers are suspended from accepting new patients after they learned through an audit that they haven’t been following a new federal regulation. Both the Gateway to Recovery Detox Center in Fairbanks and the Ernie Turner […]