Legislators listen to Alaska Court System general counsel Nancy Mead as she answers questions from the House gallery about the logistics of putting court records on line. The impromptu Q&A took place during an at-ease in discussions about amendments to SB 54 on Sunday. If passed, SB 54 would amend Senate Bill 91, a major but controversial reworking of Alaska criminal justice laws passed last year. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)The Alaska House has rejected a repeal of last year’s criminal justice overhaul.
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Representatives voted 13-27 Saturday against an amendment to Senate Bill 54 that would have repealed most of the law that lowered jail terms for many crimes.
Anchorage Republican Rep. Chuck Kopp said SB 54 addresses many of the concerns that police and the public have raised about last year’s law, Senate Bill 91.
“It remains to be seen if the political process can handle the level of complexity –and the media circus that often accompanies it – to solve problems that are this difficult, that don’t fit on a bumper-sticker slogan,” Kopp said.
Wasilla Republican Rep. Cathy Tilton sponsored the amendment.
Tilton said the Legislature should return to the laws that were in place before SB 91.
“What I do know is that the people of Alaska do not feel safe,” Tilton said.
Anchorage Republican Rep. Charisse Millett voted to repeal most of SB 91. She said Alaska can’t compare the law with what other states have done, because other states spent more money upfront to rehabilitate offenders. She said there should have been more of an emphasis on public safety in writing the law.
“That goes hand in hand with lowering recidivism and making rehabilitation available, but through the lens of, ‘Let’s make the public safe,’” Millett said. “Do no harm.”
Anchorage Democratic Rep. Ivy Spohnholz voted against the repeal amendment. She listed many of the changes in SB 54.
“Theft in the second-degree? We fixed it in SB 54. Lightest sentencing in the nation for C felonies? We fixed it in SB 54. Violation of condition of release problems? We fixed it in SB 54. Investing in addiction? We’re doing it,” Spohnholz said.
Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Adam Wool also voted no. He said the state runs the risk of having to build another prison if it continues to do the same things that led to a high rate of repeat offenders.
“To immediately go back, to turn back the clock and say, ‘Let’s throw this away and go back how it was, the good old days,’” Wool said. “The good old days weren’t that good.”
Twelve minority-caucus Republicans supported the repeal amendment, as did majority-caucus Republican Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux of Anchorage.
Opponents of SB 91 took to social media Sunday to criticize the 27 House members who voted against the repeal amendment.
A post encouraged Alaskans to vandalize the 27 lawmakers’ cars, and said “it’s fair game to shoot thieves on the spot.”
The post prompted a statement from Speaker Bryce Edgmon on the House floor.
“Any sort of suggestion of retaliation, for lack of a better word, against any member of this body from anybody in the general public will be dealt with swiftly and immediately,” Edgmon said.
Edgmon said he forwarded the post to the Capitol’s chief security officer, who contacted the Alaska State Troopers.
A spokesman for the troopers said an investigation into the matter is ongoing.
The House was in recess through most of Monday, as members prepared more amendments to SB 54.