House Judiciary Committee Chair Matt Claman brought an abrupt end to a Friday hearing on one of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s crime bills, placing new conditions on testifying in person.

The Anchorage Democrat told committee members no Department of Law attorney based outside of Juneau can testify in person, until Dunleavy approves similar travel requests for the Public Defender Agency.

“If they are going to say the public defender can’t come and be in person, then their folks from Anchorage can also testify by phone,” Claman said after the brief hearing.

Claman said he learned of the travel restrictions earlier in the week when the House State Affairs Committee was hearing other Dunleavy crime bills.

On Tuesday, Public Defender Quinlan Steiner told the House State Affairs Committee he could not travel for the remainder of the session.

“You’re the head of the Public Defender Agency, so I guess I’m just kind of curious who you have to ask in order to get permission to travel,” asked committee member Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage. “Thus, who denied your permission to travel?”

“I don’t approve my own travel," Steiner told the committee. "I make my request to the Department of Administration. I was told that was forwarded up to the governor’s office and denied by the chief of staff (Tuckerman Babcock).”

Late Friday evening, Dunleavy's press secretary Matt Shuckerow said in an email that travel in several government segments is being evaluated:

“Both the Office of Public Advocacy and the Public Defender Agency have made claims that they are underfunded. As a result, the Office of the Governor — consistent with travel reductions instituted government wide — is reviewing their travel to Juneau to understand how it may affect overall spending. The Office of the Governor has approved certain travel in the past, but is currently requesting a formal travel plan for the remainder of the legislative session to consider what is within reason.

“Additionally, the Committee Chairs are in charge of their Committees. If they prefer testimony over the phone, that is perfectly acceptable to the Administration.”

Claman had originally scheduled House Bill 49 for Friday afternoon’s hearing, but the committee never heard the bill. Instead when it came time to hear the bill, Claman put the administration on notice, then quickly adjourned.

Afterward, Claman stressed the value of having a public defender present for questions on crime bills.

“Sometimes they identify issues the Department of Law doesn’t identify,” he said. “They bring in perspectives. Sometimes there's has been constitutional issues with bills that the public defender identifies that somebody else hasn’t thought of.

"And so it actually helps our process get it right. It’s the classic example of the adversary system in the courts, that you get both sides and that helps you find truth.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a response from the Dunleavy administration.

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