Alaska lawmakers unveil compromise crime bill that further rolls back SB 91

Alaska lawmakers unveil compromise crime bill that further rolls back SB 91

(excerpt from Anchorage Daily News May 5 2019)

JUNEAU — With less than two weeks remaining in the legislative session, the Alaska House Finance Committee has proposed a compromise crime-fighting plan that appears to satisfy Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s call for a “war on criminals.”

“This would effectively repeal and replace the negative aspects of SB 91,” John Skidmore, Alaska’s deputy attorney general, told the committee while referring to the controversial criminal justice reform bill known as Senate Bill 91.

The new legislation, known as House Bill 49, increases criminal penalties for a wide swath of crimes, adjusts the way the state handles detention before trial and modifies probation and parole. Both the governor and legislators have said that anti-crime legislation is just as necessary as the budget in order to adjourn the session on time.

Until now, the crime-fighting concept has been bogged down by disparate proposals fighting for attention. HB 49 attempts to break that slowdown by incorporating elements of four anti-crime bills proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, modifications made by the Senate and proposals from the House Judiciary Committee in 67 dense pages of legislation.

In total, it further repeals SB 91, which was signed into law in 2016. Critics have blamed SB 91, which attempted to shrink the prison population and cut correctional costs, for contributing to a spike in state crime rates despite extensive modifications since its passage.

The legislation would increase costs for the state’s criminal justice system. According to draft fiscal notes provided Saturday evening to the finance committee, the bill would cost the state about $23 million more per year.

If HB 49 were to become law, one of the biggest changes would be an increase in criminal sentences for simple drug possession. HB 49 would make a first or second drug-possession conviction a Class A misdemeanor subject to up to 365 days in prison or on electronic monitoring. SB 91 had made it a Class B misdemeanor, which under SB 91 was punishable by up to 10 days in custody.

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