House advances sweeping crime bill, Senate begins its review
After several hours of debate over prospective changes, an amended version of a sweeping crime bill from Gov. Mike Dunleavy cleared the House along caucus lines.
Wednesday’s 24-14 vote means the Senate will begin reviewing House Bill 49 Thursday morning in the Senate Finance Committee.
Dunleavy and many lawmakers campaigned on changing Senate Bill 91, which passed three years ago and has been blamed for certain crime spikes. Wednesday’s vote is viewed as a first step toward those promises, by enhancing sentencing guidelines and adding new features at the request of law enforcement.
“What you have before you is a bill that repeals and replaces the harmful provisions of SB 91,” said House Finance Committee co-chair Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole. “The bill empowers our law enforcement agencies to be able to do their jobs and keep our communities safe.”
Some of the changes include:
- Increasing sentencing ranges for felonies. For example, someone convicted of a Class A felony, such as arson, could faces a presumptive sentence range between four to seven years. Judges, however, can still go outside the range and increase the sentence to as high as 20 years if there are aggravating factors to the crime.
- Requiring out-of-state registered sex offenders moving to Alaska to register. Prosecutors have long said they don’t want Alaska to become a safe haven for registered offenders moving to Alaska.
- A new crime is established to fight the soaring rates of auto theft: possession of motor vehicle theft tools. To obtain a conviction prosecutors would have to prove a person possesses tools commonly used in theft and has shown an intent to steal.
- Timely testing of sexual assault examination kits is required. This was a feature in HB 20 by Rep. Geran Terr, D-Anchorage.
- Prosecutors can aggregate the value of stolen goods by a defendant within six months. This means rather than charging someone for separate misdemeanors, prosecutors can combine the charges for a single, higher-level charge, perhaps a felony.
On Monday, the House Finance Committee passed its version, which prompted Dunleavy to say if the House approved it, he would support it.
But the House weakened some of its parole and probation sections, plus it removed changes to a marriage as defense section.
Rep. Josh Revak, R-Anchorage, noted how officials at Spring Creek Correctional Center were fresh off an inmate riot when the House began debating the bill.
“Crime is clearly out of control,” he told his colleagues on the House floor. “If this bill was so great, then I don’t understand why it would require nearly 40 pages of amendments at the last minute that a good portion of us weren’t able to see or review. I think the initial bill was good. I would have loved to supported it. Unfortunately, I think we need to go quite a bit farther than we have here.”
The HB 49 is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday at 9 a.m.
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