Rep. Saddler: Special Session Ends with Improved Crime Bill

Monday, November 27, 2017 - 15:55

If there’s one thing I’m sure we can all agree on, it’s that there have been enough special legislative sessions this year!

At least the session that wound up Tuesday resulted in some important revisions to Alaska’s criminal justice reform effort. We passed Senate Bill 54 to fix some of the worst elements of Senate Bill 91, the big 2016 crime reform bill.

Although SB 91 intended to slow the expensive and ineffective revolving door of prisons, I felt it “put the cart before the horse:” It eased up on jail sentences first, before putting in place the extra pre-trial supervision and treatment services necessary to try to avoid the high costs for putting even low-level offenders in jail.

That’s why I voted for Rep. Cathy Tilton’s amendment to SB 54 that would have repealed SB 91 as completely as possible in special session. But when that amendment failed 13-27, I kept working to strengthen SB 54, and voted yes on final passage. Among its many provisions:

o Class C felonies get up to a year in jail, instead of just probation

o Up to five days in jail for violating release conditions, not just a ticket

o Increased punishment for repeat misdemeanors

o Ending “administrative parole” that releases criminals after serving just a quarter of their sentences

o Allowing police to hold DUI suspects until they’re sober

During lengthy floor action, we amended it to add longer sentences for petty theft and low-level felonies, and longer probation for certain crimes. Some people have voiced concerns over an amendment providing the same sentencing range for class B and class C felonies, but any potential constitutional issues can be resolved as work on crime laws will certainly continue next session and beyond.

I was proud to win passage of my amendment making it easier to prosecute car thefts. Instead of having to prove joyriders know they’re in a stolen car, police now will just have to show the joyrider missed significant red flags a reasonable person would have noticed. It’s the same standard the Anchorage Assembly adopted unanimously in September, and it’s already helping encourage joyriders to cooperate with investigators.

The House sent its finished version of SB 54 to the Senate, which agreed to the changes, passed it into law, then adjourned. But the House’s refusal to adjourn triggered the Constitutional rule that neither legislative body can adjourn for more than three days unless the other follows suit.

This led to the strange sight of Democratic leaders staying in Juneau, holding hollow “technical sessions” every few days, running out the clock at significant cost, hoping the Senate would agree to pass an income tax to raise money – the second main agenda item for the special session that reached its 30-day limit Tuesday.

Like the Senate members that voted it down soundly, I oppose an income tax, especially when the House majority failed all year to act on the hundreds of budget cuts I and my fellow Republicans offered. The question of how to balance state expenses with revenue will undoubtedly be tops on next session’s agenda – which is a blessed two months away!

Representative Dan Saddler (R-Eagle River) has represented Chugiak-Eagle River in the Alaska House since 2011, and serves as Floor Leader for the Alaska House Republicans.

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