By a 19-1 vote on Wednesday, the Alaska Senate has approved a bill that calls for records of acquittals, dismissed cases and dropped cases to be expunged from Alaska’s online court record system, CourtView.
The vote follows a 32-4 approval last year in the Alaska House, where the bill was introduced by Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole. The bill was amended with a technical correction, which means it must return to the House for what is expected to be an uncontroversial vote to concur with the Senate’s change. After that, it will go to the desk of Gov. Bill Walker for signature or veto.
Under the bill, CourtView records will be scrubbed after 60 days for people whose cases are dropped and dismissed, or if they are found innocent at trial. The records of their arrest and trial will still be kept in hard copy, but there will no longer be an easy way to discover that those records exist.
Speaking on the Senate floor, Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, said the bill is a “softer version” of one that was vetoed by then-Gov. Sean Parnell when the 28th Alaska Legislature approved it.
“This does not expunge the court records,” Giessel said. “The hard copies will still be available in the (courthouse).”
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, also speaking from the floor, shared an anecdote about an Anchorage woman who was arrested in error and had her case dropped, but her arrest still showed up in CourtView.
If you did the research, he said, you could find out that her case was dropped, “however, a lot of people don’t do that,” he said.
While HB11 enjoyed widespread support in the Alaska Legislature, it wasn’t universal.
The Alaska Association of Chiefs of Police opposed the bill, writing in a pair of letters saying, “while we feel this bill was well intentioned, we are unable to lend our support to it. We do not feel that it serves the interests of public safety because it infringes on the public’s right to know.”
As written, the bill will erase the records of cases dropped because of prosecutorial mistakes or misconduct, as well as those for which there is insufficient evidence.
Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, cast the sole vote in the Senate against the bill. As he exited the chamber, he said, “I don’t think we pay enough attention to victims’ rights here in Alaska.”