Senate adjourns session after passing crime bill

  • By Becky Bohrer
  • Saturday, November 11, 2017 8:16pm
  • News

JUNEAU — The Alaska Senate set aside constitutional concerns and approved a crime bill Friday, but it sidestepped taxes when ending the special legislative session.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska warned lawmakers that a provision of the crime bill, passed by the House this week, would make presumptive sentence ranges for first-time Class C and Class B felonies the same.

The group said this would violate due process requirements. 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.

The organization warned of legal action if the provision were adopted.

The bill, SB54, was prompted by public outcry over crime and intended to address concerns that arose from a criminal justice overhaul passed by lawmakers last year.

The Senate passed its own version of SB54 earlier this year but on Friday voted narrowly to adopt the House version, which Senate President Pete Kelly said was tougher on crime.

Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, said if senators want to be tougher on crime they are “almost duty bound” to vote to accept the House version.

There may be a constitutional issue, “but it doesn’t take the whole bill out,” he said. “It only takes that section and puts it in question. We may win or we may lose in a court fight on that.”

Sen. John Coghill, who earlier this week said he would recommend a conference committee on the bill, voted to support the House version.

Gov. Bill Walker, who was in China this week, said in a statement sent to media Friday night that the crime bill returns “meaningful tools” to law enforcement and judges. “However, our work on criminal justice is not yet over, and SB 54 as amended contains some issues that must be further addressed by the Legislature,” the statement said.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon called the Senate’s actions “an abdication of their responsibilities.”

“They allowed a constitutionally flawed bill to be sent to the governor and they worsened the ongoing recession and fiscal crisis by refusing to even consider a new revenue proposal,” he said in a statement.

Edgmon, a Dillingham Democrat, told reporters the potential legal issues with the bill came to light after the House passed it and could have been fixed in a matter of days by working with senators.

He said a decision on next steps had not been made. The House could continue to meet but could not force the Senate to do any more, he said.

During the special session, which began Oct. 23, the Republican-led Senate showed little interest in the other issue on the agenda — a wage tax proposed by the governor to help address a multibillion-dollar state budget deficit that has persisted amid low oil prices.

“I am deeply saddened that the Senate has decided to again ignore Alaska’s fiscal crisis,” Walker’s statement read. “We need a complete fiscal plan to support prosecutors and police, and to pay for some of the policy decisions made in this amended version of SB 54.”

More in News

Dr. Kim Thiele stands by a wall of newspaper clippings and images of family members and precursors in his office near Kenai on Monday. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
‘A ministry for me’

Kalifornsky doctor wraps up career after 44 years

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, listens to testimony during a Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee hearing on Thursday in Juneau. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bjorkman game seizure bill received warmly in Senate committee

Of the roughly 150 animals the department takes each year, an average of between one and two are determined to be wrongfully seized

A collage of photos of Nikiski North Star Elementary students taking swimming lessons at the Nikiski Pool. (Photo collages provided by Nikiski North Star Elementary)
Community effort puts 200 Nikiski North Star students through swimming lessons

The lessons covered “everything,” from basic flotation to constructing rough-but-functional life jackets out of clothing

From left, Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, hugs Rep. Stanley Wright, R-Anchorage, after House passage of sweeping education legislation while Rep. Maxine Dibert, D-Fairbanks, watches on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
House passes BSA increase, with other education provisions

The bill now goes back to the Senate, where lawmakers must approve the bill as-is before it can head to the governor’s desk

Rep. Justin Ruffridge speaks about
House considers, rejects multiple school funding amendments during Wednesday floor debate

Over several hours, lawmakers considered six different increases in the Base Student Allocation to public schools

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan addresses members of the Alaska Legislature in the House chambers on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Dismissing critics, Sullivan touts LNG project

During his annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Wednesday, the U.S. senator said state leaders should be doing everything they can to make the project successful

From left, Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, east side setnetter Ken Coleman and Konrad Jackson present information about a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for east side setnet fishery permits during a Senate Finance Committee meeting on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Senate committee hears setnet buyback bill

The East Side of Cook Inlet Set Net Fleet Reduction Act is sponsored by Nikiski Sen. Jesse Bjorkman

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks in support of debating an omnibus education bill in the Alaska House Chambers on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Tie vote kills early House debate on education funding

Lawmakers went into an hourslong recess that ended with adjournment until Tuesday morning

Most Read