House offers overwhelming support to crime bill
The House on Friday cast the deciding vote to a sweeping crime bill that significantly alters the state’s current pretrial system.
The bill, House Bill 312, gives judges additional authority in pretrial decisions, stripping out mandatory pretrial release requirements which have drawn attention in several high-profile cases in favor of greater judicial discretion.
Under the bill, judges can also consider out-of-state criminal records at bail hearings -- a factor ignored under the current pretrial system, which has let defendants with extensive Outside criminal histories make bail.
“This is a really vital piece for the morale of our police officers,“ said Rep. Lance Pruitt (R-Anchorage). “We’re saving money as well as just general public safety.”
Some lawmakers had sought a full repeal of an even broader crime bill approved two years ago but settled for specific changes to a bill commonly referred to by its number -- SB91 (Senate Bill 91).
To reach this point, the Senate melded several of Gov. Bill Walker’s bills into the bill, originally drafted by House Judiciary Chair Matt Claman (D-Anchorage). On Friday, the House supported it, 39-1.
“There is little doubt in my mind that this is a good step in the right direction,” said Rep. Andy Josephsen (D-Anchorage), a former prosecutor. “It humanizes criminal justice rather than as one member from the other body said having a fully automaton system where the judge’s hands, in some circumstances, are tied.”
The Senate had the first vote. On Thursday, it unanimously backed HB312, but it still required final approval from the House because of changes the Senate made.
Claman’s original bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Chuck Kopp (R-Anchorage), makes it a crime to attack medical professionals trying to assist others.
With additions, the bill also allows the attorney general to ban dangerous new drugs by emergency regulation rather than legislation.
Senators on both sides of the aisle praised the bill as progress Thursday.
“The most important thing to me is today, we took down the sign that says, 'welcome to Alaska' for people with criminal records from somewhere else,” said Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna).
“This bill is smart on crime, not just simply tough on crime,” said Sen. Tom Begich (D-Anchorage). “What it does is it hits specific things.”
The bill now awaits Gov. Walker’s signature.
Daniella Rivera contributed information to this story.
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