Walker signs crime bills into law
Lawmakers point to the crime bills that came out of this year's legislative session as an example of bipartisanship -- and on Thursday, Gov. Bill Walker signed the public safety legislation into law.
The measures are said to be driven, in part, by intense public pressure to make changes to Alaska's criminal justice system.
House Bill 216 allows an offender's Permanent Fund dividend to be used toward restitution for victims, through the creation of the Restorative Justice Account.
"Success is often looked at as, 'Did you get a conviction?' and the crime victim is an invisible person in the background that gets forgotten," said Rep. Chuck Kopp (R-Anchorage), who sponsored the bill, "This bill elevates the crime victim to the proper status that they should be, the one that is recognized in our constitution as constitutionally having a right of receiving restitution."
HB312 is a host of several measures House Judiciary Chair Rep. Matt Claman (D-Anchorage) said further pushes criminal justice reform forward in Alaska.
"When it finally passed, it was 19 to zero in the Senate and 39 to one in the House," said Claman during the ceremony.
HB312 gives the state's attorney general the ability to outlaw drugs, like Spice, within a matter of weeks on an emergency basis as the recipes change. It also increases protections against violence for health care workers, in some cases allowing arrests without warrants, and increasing the sentencing range in cases of violence against healthcare workers.
Last but not least, HB312 repeals a controversial loophole in SB91's pretrial bail system.
"Out-of-state criminal history can now be considered, but more importantly, it gives discretion back to judges to decide when people should be in jail or when bail should be appropriately set. There is no more mandatory or release under [HB312], and that's a critical piece for us," said Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth.
Alaska was the first state to implement a mandatory release mechanism, legally tying the hands of judges in some cases and forcing them to release those charged with a crime based on the results of a computer generated risk assessment tool.
The algorithm doesn't include out-of-state criminal history in the numerical score it assigns defendants, but includes the information in the report given to judges. Effective immediately, they can now use that information to deviate from the recommended release options if they deem necessary.
When asked if the mandatory release component of component of Alaska's crime reform went too far, Walker responded, "Well it did,
"Some tools had to be given back to the judges -- it was clear that was going to be necessary," Walker said. That took place in the special session on [SB54] and this is one more step of sort of making some adjustments that are necessary -- some are related to [SB91], some not -- but it's a matter of continuing to work with the criminal justice system so Alaskans feel safer."
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