SB91 draws sparring views on crime from senators
An Anchorage senator says Alaskans are tired of living in fear and something needs to be done.
Sen. Mia Costello (R-Anchorage) has long pushed for wholesale changes to a sweeping crime bill she co-sponsored just two years ago. Since its passage, Senate Bill 91 has since generated pushback as being too soft and full of loopholes.
Costello attributes her change of heart to feedback from constituents. She has pushed all session for a hearing on Senate Bill 127, which makes significant changes to SB91.
With the end of 121-day session inching closer, the Senate Finance Committee Thursday gave Costello’s bill its first hearing.
The debate was, at times, spirited.
“My argument today is that we need to listen to Alaskans,” Costello told the committee. “Alaskans like my constituents are saying they have lost faith in the Legislature and lost faith in the administration.”
Gov. Bill Walker has introduced a suite of technical changes to SB91. Among them is a bill that gives judges additional authority to consider out-of-state criminal records at bail hearings.
Sen. Natasha Von Imhof (R-Anchorage) said lawmakers should focus on those changes in a rebuttal to Costello.
“You said let’s start the dialogue,” said Von Imhof, a Senate Finance Committee member. “This dialogue has been on-going for like three years. Start the dialogue? It hasn’t stopped.
“Case in point. There are about five or six bills presently, right now, dealing with specifics aspects of crime. So I’m not sure what kind of dialogue you want to start, Senator.”
Earlier this year, Costello conducted a survey on Facebook and collected several binders of comments from Alaskans sharing concerns about current crime laws.
Costello told the committee in opening remarks: “I’ve listened to my constituents and they are saying they are afraid to go to the grocery store; they are afraid to take their kids to the Northway Mall or in public; they are afraid in their own driveways; they feel unsafe in school parking lots.”
Costello says she is not trying to do a full repeal, adding the higher sentences for murder and other felonies need to remain.
Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche concurred.
“There are some things in 91 we clearly do not want to repeal,” he said. “That would be very bad for victims. It would be very good for criminals. But there are some sections that I do want to change in 91 and this does start that conversation.
“Would I support a total repeal. I wouldn’t. There are too many important things in here that makes it tougher on crime.”
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