I hope you all had a very happy Thanksgiving! And I hope that you were able to spend quality time with friends and family, and took a moment to relax and appreciate the many gifts that life has given us.
On November 21st, the 4th Special Session of 2017, called by the governor to focus on public safety and new revenue, came to a close. While I am disappointed that the Senate again chose to ignore the facts and not address our structural fiscal issues, the legislature made Alaska a safer place by passing SB54. Some important provisions of the bill were:
- Reinstituting jail time as a penalty for first-time class C felony convictions (e.g. vehicle theft, theft in the 2nd degree, etc.), and increasing penalties for repeat C felony convictions;
- Increasing penalties for repeat class A misdemeanor offenses;
- Increasing penalties for low-level theft convictions, including possible jail time; and
- Returning violation of conditions of release (VCOR) to a criminal offense (SB91 made it a violation).
I personally sponsored the amendment which added the possibility of jail for first-time low-level theft convictions. This provision was driven by input from business owners in our community. I thank them for reaching out to me, and I was glad to see this amendment pass on the House floor.
The bill did many other things to improve public safety. SB 54, as amended by the House, was tougher on crime than the bill passed by the Senate, while also being smarter on crime. SB54 capped probation officer caseloads, and required alcohol screening and education for more people. However, after many hours of public and expert testimony, and much reflection, I came to believe that SB91 had placed the cart before the horse in that treatment and prevention measures were not put into place before reducing penalties for many crimes. The better solution would have been to repeal SB91 and to start over. That is how I voted. Nevertheless, I believe the legislature can be proud of its responsiveness to constituents in passing a much “beefed up” version of SB54.
The spike in crime highlights the need for a comprehensive fiscal plan. Although I hope SB54 will help reduce crime, we do not have enough prosecutors and public safety officers as a result of our fiscal situation. Alaskans deserve essential public safety services, and government must have a structured and reliable way to pay for them.
I am thankful that this past session is the last special session of 2017. Please do not hesitate to contact me or my office to let me know how I can best serve you or our community. I wish you all a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season.