The Alaska Senate is weighing whether to agree to some of the House’s changes to Senate Bill 91, as part of a criminal justice reform bill passed Tuesday.

The Senate returned to the capitol Wednesday after the Senate Finance Committee worked out of Anchorage last week. Senators now have to decide whether to agree to the House’s version of their bill, Senate Bill 54 — and at this point, it isn’t an easy answer.

Some of the 28 changes the House made were approved without any information about the cost associated with them. What we do know is that some of the increased prison sentences the house passed will mean a bigger strain on the budget. According to an estimate by the House Finance Committee, it could be as much as $4 million annually. That, coupled with questions about the legality of some provisions, has the Senate waiting for more information.

"Because these amendments were made on the floor and as you know they went way into the morning hours, we don’t know the fiscal impact of what they passed," explained Sen. Mia Costello (R-Anchorage), Chair of the Labor & Commerce Committee. "So, we’re going to have to look at that and find out what those impacts are and also whether the amendments are constitutional, so there’s actually some work to be done."

Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna) says he's okay with increasing the state budget if it means curbing crime. 

"The priority for the Senate is that Alaskans are safe in their homes and that their businesses are secure. There’s going to be a cost to the changes to 54, and frankly, I’m okay with that. I believe that the rest of the Senate, you’re going to see with the vote by the end of the week, is okay with that," Micciche said.

At first blush, Micciche said his caucus is onboard with most of the amendments conceptually -- but there have been some concerns raised by the Dept. of Law about a provision that could allow the same amount of jail time for a first-time class C and class B felonies. 

"I think things are heading in the right direction, I hope it’s a swift process and that the Senate can concur. If we don’t concur, it will be in agreement with the House that there’s a technical or constitutional issue that has to be corrected," Micciche said. 

The Senate Finance Committee is holding a hearing early Friday morning to address some of their questions about the House version of the bill. The Senate passed SB54 in its original form in April.

Friday will likely be a turning point this session — if the Senate approves the measure, both bodies may gavel out without addressing a wage tax, that’s the only other item Gov. Bill Walker has placed on the special session agenda. 

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