State senators begin hearing Dunleavy crime bills
A state Senate panel got its first look Wednesday at Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s plan to rewrite the state’s crime laws with a suite of bills.
The Senate Judiciary Committee examined one of Dunleavy’s four public safety bills, Senate Bill 32, in a 90-minute hearing. The bill focuses mostly on crime classification and sentencing.
SB32 proposes numerous changes, including:
- Returning felony sentencing ranges to their levels before July 2016. For example, Class A felonies will have a sentencing range from 5 to 8 years rather than 3 to 6 years.
- Changing sentencing ranges for certain misdemeanors. A Class B misdemeanor's maximum penalty, for example, would increase from up to 10 days to as much as 90 days.
- Reenacting felony Class A drug distribution statutes which focus on the type of narcotic, rather than the amount being distributed.
The remaining bills are being heard separately, some in other committees.
All four bills are a response to public pushback on Senate Bill 91 – the sweeping criminal-justice reform legislation passed three years ago, which has since been caught up in the debate over how to combat soaring crime rates statewide.
Not long after its passage, SB91 came under heavy public and legislative scrutiny for perceived loopholes and sentences deemed too light to dissuade criminals from acting. Calls for repealing and replacing SB 91 became a bumper-sticker and campaign slogan during last November’s election, especially for Dunleavy.
The committee received an overview of SB32 Wednesday from Dunleavy's public safety team: Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price and Corrections Commissioner Nancy Dahlstrom.
Committee members restated some of their campaign concerns, invoking anecdotes from their respective districts.
“Crime has been high in Alaska for a long time,” said Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla. “SB91 by itself we know is not the cause of the much in crime, but it has been causal to some of the spikes, the catch and release, the inability to prosecute, lowering felonies to misdemeanors, misdemeanors to violations; so it matters.”
Shower went on to ask Dunleavy’s cabinet members if they believed these bills speak to public concerns.
“Is this effort achieving what the people have asked us to do, by repealing and replacing in effect SB91, so we’re moving forward?” he said. “So it’s a little bit of an opinion but I’m asking what you think about this effort.”
“It’s not possible for someone to testify to you and say SB91 created all the problems that we’ve experienced,” he said. “I think the governor is right in that SB91 was an exacerbator and it made the problems that we’ve been experiencing much worse.”
The committee's chair, Sen. Shelley Hughes, will continue hearings on the bill Friday and begin taking public testimony Saturday.
“This is a serious matter before us,” Hughes said. “I have every intention to keep this bill moving along, but I’m not going to rush it because we want to get it right.
“We want to have a thorough understanding of what we are passing. Criminal law is complex, so we will take the time that is needed and appropriate to do good work on this bill and to understand the bill”
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