Bill to give judges pretrial discretion nears vote
Legislation to provide judges additional pretrial hearing discretion is inching closer to a House vote.
On Wednesday night, the House Judiciary Committee melded Gov. Bill Walker’s pretrial release bill with a second piece of crime legislation.
The House on Thursday then waived the bill out of the finance committee, placing it on a faster track for a vote.
Walker and some lawmakers have pushed for changes that give judges additional authority, especially when it comes to considering out-of-state criminal records at bail hearings.
“You know, when someone comes before a judge and they have got a prior record, they can use that in making a decision if they are going to release them or not,” Walker said. “That’s critical.
“You’ve got to look at the whole picture. If folks coming to Alaska that have a significant record, the judges should know about that and be able to use in their determination.”
Some lawmakers have pushed for a full repeal of a sweeping crime bill passed two years ago. Those efforts didn’t get far, and now lawmakers are willing to advance some of Walker’s proposed changes.
“As someone who was against SB91 from the beginning, I’m willing to set down my desire to fix some of the other challenges [in order] to try to fix what we know is a definite problem that not only has the governor recognized, I think even the people who were proponents of 91 have recognized,” said Rep. Lance Pruitt (R-Anchorage). “We need to fix this one item.”
The same bill also permits the attorney general additional power to limit new types of controlled substances and designate them as potentially dangerous. This is known as scheduling. Currently, these designations require separate legislation, which could take two years.
House Rep. Chuck Kopp, a former Kenai police chief and retired 23-year law enforcement veteran, recalled how it took two years for the Legislature to classify one street drug known as “spice.”
Kopp says there still are parameters placed on an attorney general, but enhancing its role is vital.
“It just takes so long for this legislative body to move on a dangerous substance that’s wreaking havoc on the streets,” said Kopp, a member of the House Judiciary Committee. “It has to be a controlled substance, something that is recognized under the federal controlled substance laws.”
Walker says a giving the attorney general this discretion is essentially a street-level fight.
“The illicit drugs that come into this state, we’ll make one illegal, then within a short period of time the substance has changed to something else,” he said. “So we’ve asked that the attorney general be involved in deeming these illegal rather than waiting years before for it to come before the process and go through the process.”
Even as lawmakers have long struggled with budgets this year, calls for attention to crime remained strong throughout the Capitol halls and social media.
“If we leave session without addressing some of the issues, the risk assessment is one, then I think we’ve failed Alaskans,” said House Minority Leader Charisse Millett. “The governor has put forward a bill and I’ve put forward a bill. We need to have those discussions. I’ve heard more about crime than I have about the Permanent Fund Dividend.”
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