Alaska lawmakers eye changes to criminal justice law

  • By Becky Bohrer
  • Sunday, February 5, 2017 8:15pm
  • News

JUNEAU — The Alaska Senate, amid public outcry about crime in the state, is eyeing changes to sweeping criminal justice legislation passed last year.

North Pole Republican Sen. John Coghill, who sponsored the new law, said several areas have emerged as needing to be re-examined, including penalties for petty thefts. Legislation is expected to be introduced soon.

The law, based on recommendations from a criminal justice commission, sought changes to a system that has experienced high rates of repeat offenders.

The commission, in a recent report, said it’s too early to say if the law is succeeding in its intended goals since not all provisions have taken effect. But it recommended areas where the law could be changed based on comments from law enforcement, prosecutors and the public.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche of Soldotna said the state began seeing an increase in crime, associated with drug-related activity, before the new law’s passage. And Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth told a Senate panel recently that the law has been blamed for more than it’s responsible for.

She pointed to other complicating factors, like budget cuts that have taken a toll on agencies like hers and a drug epidemic.

In an opinion piece last fall, Lindemuth said the state doesn’t have enough treatment options yet for those with addictions or mental illness.

Still, she, Micciche and others say the criminal justice law can be improved.

Micciche said the goal for the Republican-led Senate majority is making necessary adjustments so that people feel safe in their homes and know offenders will be held accountable.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham Democrat, said he expects the House to prioritize legislation addressing changes to the law. He cited concerns that have been raised with some sentencing provisions.

Here are other things to watch for:

TRAPPING NEAR TRAILS

The House Resources Committee is scheduled to hear legislation Monday that would restrict trapping in certain public areas.

In a statement, the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Andy Josephson, says trapping would be barred within 200 feet of a public trail or other public sites that are maintained or improved, such as camping areas and recreational beaches. He says there have been cases where dogs have gotten caught in traps and his bill, House Bill 40, aims to prevent conflicts between trappers and recreationists.

STATE OF JUDICIARY

Craig Stowers, chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court, delivers the annual State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the Legislature on Wednesday.

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