The Alaska Senate passed an omnibus criminal justice reform measure Saturday. It includes changes to pre-trial statutes, sentencing laws and parole.


Sen. John Coghill, sponsor of Senate Bill 91 and a member of the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission that produced the report that lead to it, called the measure “the state’s bill.”


Coghill recognized that people, including some public safety and victims advocacy groups, are still uncomfortable with it, but said, “Change is uncomfortable.”


Indeed, the bill passed despite scathing criticism by multiple groups in a joint letter sent to lawmakers late last week. The Anchorage Police Department Employees Association and others expressed “strong opposition” to SB 91 and the House companion, House Bill 205.


“We strongly believe that these bills are premised on a fundamentally flawed public policy that seeks to balance the State’s budget on the backs of crime victims and local governments,” said signers of the letter. “It’s unconscionable to jeopardize public safety and exacerbate the trauma crime victims endure in the name of fiscal savings.”


Co-signers included the Alaska Association of Chief of Police, the Alaska Peace Officers Association, the North Pole Police Department, Victims for Justice advocacy group, Public Safety Employee Association, Office of Victims Rights, and the advocacy group, Standing Together Against Rape.


They urged legislators to put the bill on hold “until a more comprehensive evaluation can be made regarding the impacts these change will have on our people and communities.”


The bill passed with a vote of 16 to two. Mat-Su senators Bill Stoltze and Charlie Huggins were the only no votes. Stoltze cited the joint letter as one of the reasons behind his decision, along with concerns that the bill had become “too big to fail” and could include unforeseen ramifications for victims and public safety.


Coghill told members of the Senate there is still a lot of work to be done on the legislation.


The bill now heads to the House.