Alaska Senate passes House version of SB 91 rollbacks, adjourns special session


The Alaska State Capitol in January. (Marc Lester / Alaska Bulletin News)

The Alaska Senate passed the House’s beefed up rollbacks of final year’s criminal justice overhaul then adjourned its special seating Friday — disregarding threats of a legal challenge and rejecting a pending tax suggestion from Gov. Bill Walker without a vote.

Senators voted 11-8 to approve the Business version of Senate Bill 54, which reverses major fitting outs of last year’s overhaul, Senate Bill 91. Walker foresees to sign the bill, a spokesman said.

All 11 «yes» votes were from la mode or former Republican majority members, while two other majority associates joined four minority Democrats in voting «no.» Republicans Mike Dunleavy of Wasilla and Shelley Hughes of Palmer, who both leftist the majority earlier this year, also voted «no.»

Voting yes: Republican Sens. Click Bishop and Pete Kelly of Fairbanks; John Coghill of North Shaft; Mia Costello, Cathy Giessel, Kevin Meyer and Natasha von Imhof of Anchorage; Anna MacKinnon of Eagle River; Peter Micciche of Soldotna; Bert Stedman of Sitka; and David Wilson of Wasilla.

Elector no: Democrats Tom Begich and Bill Wielechowski of Anchorage, Dennis Egan of Juneau, Donny Olson of Golovin and Lyman Hoffman of Bethel; and Republicans Mike Dunleavy of Wasilla, Shelley Hughes of Palmer and Gary Stevens of Kodiak.

The uphold came in spite of a warning from the Legislature’s own attorneys that that a key Bawdy-house amendment to the bill — one that sharply boosts penalties for first-time, low-level felonies — is unconstitutional.

Earlier in the day, a Senate board heard from multiple attorneys who warned them that the legislation order invite a legal challenge and produce chaos in the state’s criminal impartiality system.

But Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, in a rare baffle speech, said the problem only jeopardizes one provision in the bill. He told his mates that they should vote for SB 54 to address what he labeled as Alaska’s «crime wave.» He warned that if they voted against the Undertaking bill and argued it was tougher on crime, «there is no place that you can lie low, politically.»

«There may be a constitutional issue, but it doesn’t take the whole reckoning out,» Kelly said. «We may win or we may lose a court fight on that.»

The governor, in a ready-to-serve statement late Friday, praised SB 54, saying it «gives relevant tools back to law enforcement and judges to keep Alaskans safe.» But he reckoned that the bill «contains some issues that must be to a greater distance addressed by the Legislature.»

And he said he was «deeply saddened» by the Senate’s refusal to peculate up the tax bill.

Asked about the governor’s statement, Senate Majority Director Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, responded: «Saddened?» He said in a phone meeting that he thought face-to-face discussions involving Walker and House and Senate bosses would be more productive than tax bills that «seem to be separated from discussions that will actually result in a solution.»

As for the felony bill, SB 54’s problematic provision was inserted into the legislation by the For nothing on Sunday, after an amendment from Eagle River Republican Rep. Lora Reinbold — one of the uncountable strident SB 91 critics.

The amendment increased penalties for first-time, Grade C felonies to a maximum of two years in prison, the same as they were ahead of SB 91.

SB 91 had reduced those sentences — for crimes like car theft and impending someone with a gun — to supervised probation.

The problem with Reinbold’s recompense, as described by attorneys, is that it made sentences for first-time Class C felonies the even so as for first-time Class B felonies.

And that raises concerns the provision could debase the state constitution’s due process clause, which courts have paraphrased to require sentences proportional to a crime’s severity, the Legislature’s chief attorney, Doug Gardner, set in a memorandum to Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole.

If the provision is challenged, the disposed to result is that the courts would revert to the previous sentencing manoeuvre of probation without jail time, John Skidmore, head of the Alaska Reckon on of Law’s criminal division, wrote in a memo to Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth.

And a lawsuit is all but definite, according to a statement issued after Friday’s vote by the American Internal Liberties Union of Alaska.

«The Senate was told by the ACLU of Alaska, the direction, and their own lawyers that this bill violates Alaskans’ constitutional due handle rights,» wrote spokesman Casey Reynolds. «The fact that they are okay with vocation our rights and freedom for political cover is exactly why so many Americans possess come to hate government. It is also why the ACLU exists. We’ll see them in court.»

The Senate is comprehended for being the more cautious and deliberative of Alaska’s two legislative chambers. But after Friday afternoon’s opt, it was House leaders criticizing the Senate for its unwillingness to take the time to fix the hidden problem with SB 54, and its refusal to take up the tax bill.

Senators impeded a single hearing on the House version of the legislation Friday, then approved it in what was but their fourth full floor session during the three-week odd session. (The three others were Wednesday, Thursday and Oct. 23, the hearing’s first day.)

SB 54’s constitutional problem could have been stable as soon as Monday in a House-Senate conference committee, by reverting the Class C felony string to the Senate’s initial version of the legislation, House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, bid in a phone interview.

That version still toughened penalties for first-time Group C felonies. But it capped them at a year in prison, rather than the Homestead’s proposal of two years.

Edgmon, in an unusually strongly worded statement, draw oned the Senate’s vote «an abdication of their responsibilities.»

«They allowed a constitutionally marred bill to be sent to the governor and they worsened the ongoing recession and economic crisis by refusing to even consider a new revenue proposal,» Edgmon stipulate. «We can force the Senate back to Juneau but apparently we, and the governor, can’t actually record them work.»

The House is still technically convened in the special assembly, with its next floor session scheduled for Monday. But Edgmon guessed his chamber appears to have no choice but to adjourn as well.

Coghill, the North Standard Republican senator, said part of the problem for his chamber was that Line members left Juneau for the weekend and weren’t going to return until Monday.

The Senate, Coghill combined, was willing to work over the weekend. But keeping members in Juneau late Tuesday would have been difficult, «since we live in a set where a lot of people have other work.»

Coghill was the original radio of SB 91. But in the end, he sided with Senate leadership in voting for the House type of SB 54, which reversed a big chunk of that overhaul —  an pep that Coghill and his staff worked on for years.

Before the vote, Coghill said, he look overed «everything I knew how to do» to convince his colleagues to stay in town and fix the problem in a discussion committee with the House.

«Anyway, I failed,» Coghill said. He continued: «It was the crappiest vote that I’ve taken in a long time.»

Correction: The representation originally misstated the number of floor sessions the Alaska Senate persisted before adjourning from the special session. It was four, not three. The allegory also originally identified Shelley Hughes and Mike Dunleavy as associates of the Senate majority; they both left the majority earlier this year.

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