Lawmakers address SB 91 sex crime loophole
Lawmakers say it was an oversight -- a loophole in crime law created by Senate Bill 91 that could mean no jail time for some types of sexual abuse of a minor if it’s a first offense.
Now, at least one lawmaker says she knew about that provision before the crime bill passed -- and tried to warn colleagues they should fix it.
The bill lawmakers are currently debating, Senate Bill 54, would add up to one year of jail time for that offense.
"Obviously the governor had to know that was in there because the Department of Law was pointing it out to folks last year," said House Minority Leader, Rep. Charisse Millett. "When you pass an omnibus bill, this big with this many statute changes and this many subjects, unintended consequences will be found everywhere."
Millett, who voted against Senate Bill 91, says she knew that loophole was in the bill, and she says she tried to warn colleagues on the House floor.
"It was addressed and I believe the amendment failed on the floor last year," Millett said.
Sen. John Coghill, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote Senate Bill 91 was based on recommendations from the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission. Coghill declined to speak on camera Wednesday, but he did say he was never made aware of the loophole -- and that he’s taking steps to try fix it now.
A spokesperson for Gov. Bill Walker said he relies on bill reviews by the Dept. of Law before deciding whether to sign a piece of legislation into law. In the case of Senate Bill 91, that review did not mention the oversight on sexual abuse of a minor.
That oversight is just one example of the law’s unintended consequences. Senate Bill 91 also took away mandatory parole for sex offenders.
"That’s another example," said Rep. Matt Claman, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee. "No one intended to take that probation requirement out of people that are convicted of sex offenses. We all wanted that, when we realized there was a problem, we quickly identified it."
When it comes to sex offenses, Claman, who’s a lawyer by trade, says he doesn’t think the legislature’s unintended consequence had real impacts. According to Claman, if a prosecutor can prove what's known as an aggravating factor, like that the victim was vulnerable, it would allow a judge to sentence up to five years in prison.
"In just my own experience in criminal law, it’s just very very rare in my experience for prosecutors to not have aggravating factors in almost every felony," Claman said.
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Editor's note: In response to questions while researching this report, Alaska Department of Law, Criminal Division Director, John Skidmore, in an email to KTVA 11 News wrote: “ … I am not aware that the Governor or legislators were ever expressly informed that a SAM 3 (Sexual Assault of a Minor in the third-degree) would be impacted by criminal justice reform”.