Senate Bill 91 would bring vast changes to criminal justice law in Alaska. Many portions of the law would be rewritten, including changing some nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors. It would also make officers issue citations instead of arresting someone when committing certain crimes.

The main sponsor of SB 91, Sen. John Coghill, said it could save the state $424 million during the next 10 years.

“The aim is [to] keep people safe and hold people accountable, but do it at the least expensive way we can do it,” Coghill said.

The executive director of the Alaska Office of Victims’ Rights, Taylor Winston, said the bill was “a good attempt” to fix the criminal justice system, but it falls short of succeeding.

“The devil is in the details, and overall, I don’t like the bill in its current form,” Winston said.

She said the bill would deprive victims of the ability to speak out before someone potentially dangerous could be released from jail.

“It’s going to be very hard to describe to any victim – if this bill goes into law – when a person is going to get out of jail,” Winston explained.

The law enforcement community echoed her concerns.

“This bill is going to cause the [police] to continue arresting the same people more often,” said Officer Jeremy Conkling, the vice president of the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association.

He testified in Juneau last week, but says law enforcement should have been included in the writing of the bill earlier.

“It would be best for everybody involved if this process would slow down a little bit,” said Conkling, adding “daily practitioners of law,” like police, should have had more input.

Coghill says he gave them that opportunity.

“I have reached out on every level. Sometimes, I think they were thinking if they just [testified] and opposed it, they could stop it,” Coghill said. “Now, I think they realize that this might have some possibility of passing, and they’re disappointed.”

Discussion on the bill will continue in Senate State Affairs Thursday.

You can find the full text of the bill here.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Senate Bill 91 was introduced Tuesday. The bill was first introduced last year. This has been corrected.

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