House keeps session alive after Senate calls it quits

  • By Becky Bohrer
  • Monday, November 13, 2017 10:33pm
  • News

JUNEAU — The Alaska House isn’t giving up on the special legislative session, even though the Senate has called it quits.

The House majority coalition on Monday announced plans to hold technical sessions until the special session ends Nov. 21.

The House plans for the two Juneau members to preside over the technical sessions, for which attendance isn’t mandatory, to keep the special session alive. That will force the Senate to hold similar sessions since one body can’t adjourn without the other.

Special sessions can last up to 30 days, and Nov. 21 would be the 30th day.

The Senate adjourned Friday after adopting a crime bill passed days earlier by the House, despite constitutional concerns.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon hopes by keeping the session alive, the Senate will address issues with the crime bill and address the session’s other item, a wage tax.

But the Republican-led Senate has shown little interest in taxes, having rejected an income tax proposal earlier this year as unnecessary and ill-advised for a sluggish economy.

And Gov. Bill Walker said he will sign the crime bill, SB54, which was prompted by a public outcry over crime following passage of a criminal justice overhaul last year.

The bill “returns meaningful tools to judges and law enforcement to keep Alaskans safe, although it contains some issues the Legislature will need to address quickly in the near future,” Walker said in his weekly office newsletter.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska warned legislators that a provision added in the House would make presumptive sentence ranges for first-time Class C and Class B felonies the same. This would violate due process requirements, the group said.

John Skimore, director of the state Department of Law’s criminal division, also flagged the provision as problematic.

The ACLU of Alaska said the concept of graduated offenses is to ensure more serious crimes are sentenced more harshly. Class C felonies are a lesser class of felony.

Edgmon, a Dillingham Democrat, said the potential legal issues came to light following House passage.

The Senate, which passed its own version of the bill earlier this year, voted narrowly Friday to adopt the House version, which members saw as getting tougher on crime.

Senate President Pete Kelly on Monday said any problems with the bill can be fixed when the Legislature convenes its next regular session in January. But Rep. Paul Seaton, co-chair of the House Finance Committee, said it would have been easier to handle in a conference committee during the current special session.

Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, said it’s disingenuous to blame the Senate for problems with the bill. The measure, in general, is pretty good, “and we should declare victory.”

It’s also a win for the Senate because “we didn’t allow ourselves to get pulled into a leverage game where we had to choose between imposing a tax on Alaskans versus passing a crime bill that is very much needed,” he said. The House has previously leveraged the Senate for “everything. So it would not be unreasonable to assume they would do it again,” Kelly said.

Seaton, a Homer Republican, said the crime bill and wage tax were unrelated.

“There was never, by anyone, any indication that the two things…were being tied together,” he said.

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