Empty chairs outnumber people at hearing on SB 91 fix
For the last few weeks town halls and public hearings on state crime law Senate Bill 91 have seen lots of angry residents, voicing concerns about rising crime rates -- but the scene at a Saturday session was vastly different.
The House Finance Committee asked for input during Gov. Bill Walker's special session on Senate Bill 54, which makes changes to SB 91. Lawmakers in Juneau heard comments remotely from both the Legislative Information Office in Anchorage, as well as by phone from residents statewide.
Instead of the required 24-hour notice on the hearings, lawmakers made the announcement the night before. That led to lots of empty seats and some complaints at the LIO, where Anchorage resident David Manzer wasn't happy.
"If you have a hearing on a Saturday, please post the call-in number to the website," Manzer urged legislators. "It says call in to get the number, yet when you call in of course that number is only manned during the workdays -- Monday through Friday, 8 to 5."
Video of committee members from Juneau was broadcast to the nearly empty room in Anchorage. Manzer was one of two people present, but he joined many others who called for tougher criminal penalties over the phone.
"I see these lenient punishments for auto theft, and these supposedly non-violent crimes," Manzer said. "By the way, felony crimes should be punished with jail time."
If passed, Senate Bill 54 would add up to a year of jail time for Class C felonies like car theft. Other changes include increasing penalties for low-level theft, creating harsher punishments for violating conditions of release set by a judge, and reinstating mandatory probation for sex offenders after they are released.
"I'm really angered that SB 91 was passed and what's going on, because it's the Wild West out there," Manzer said.
Debate on Senate Bill 54 will continue in Juneau next week.
The Senate Finance Committee is also holding a first hearing Monday afternoon to review the state's finances. A good opportunity for people to meet their legislators face to face.