As his crime bills languish, Dunleavy renews the idea of a special session

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy stands at the corner of his Anchorage conference room, where he gave a news conference Monday in which he urged lawmakers to take action on his criminal justice legislation. (Photo by Nat Herz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, at a news conference Monday, again suggested he could order Alaska lawmakers into a special session unless they start advancing his batch of criminal justice bills.

Dunleavy put a tough-on-crime approach at the center of his campaign last year. And at the start of the legislative session in January, he proposed four different bills.

One toughens penalties for certain sex crimes; a second boosts possible sentences for drug and other types of crimes. Two others allow for tougher bail, probation and parole conditions.

But none of the bills has passed the House or Senate. In the House, all the bills are still stuck in their first committee. If that doesn’t change, Dunleavy said, he won’t take the idea of a special session off the table.

“The people of Alaska, I believe, right now demand that we get these bills that we filed moving and out before the session is over,” he told reporters gathered in his Anchorage office. “We have plenty of time to do that and we are imploring, once again, that the Legislature move our crime package.”

Dunleavy made a similar pitch to lawmakers earlier to this month, saying there will be no session-ending deal without action on his crime bills, or his constitutional amendments on state finances and the PFD.

But a key state House member said the changes Dunleavy wants are likely too ambitious to get all of them done this year, even if some of them likely have support to pass.

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Matt Claman chairs the House Judiciary Committee, where two of Dunleavy’s bills are stuck. And he told reporters Monday that Dunleavy is going to have to compromise.

Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, questions Chief Procurement Officer Jason Soza of the Department of Administration, at a joint meeting of the House State Affairs and Health and Social Services Committees on April 2, 2019. The committees were examining procurement procedures that led to a controversial contract to manage the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.
Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

“You know, we ask the governor, ‘Okay, you’ve got four massive crime bills. What are your priorities for these?’ And the answer we get is, ‘All of them,’” Claman said. “He wants everything. Well, I’ve been around here long enough to know that you sometimes have to make choices.”

Claman has been a defender of the changes to state law that were in Senate Bill 91 — a 2016 overhaul of Alaska’s criminal justice system.

The changes stemmed from the idea, supported by data, that longer jail and prison sentences won’t make someone less likely to commit another crime. Claman said Monday that he supports tough penalties for the most serious offenses, like murder.

But he said his constituents prefer to spend money on drug treatment rather than paying to keep more addicts in prison for longer periods.

Claman said one thing lawmakers should do to enhance public safety is pass legislation to give police and firefighters better retirement benefits. Dunleavy’s spokesman, Matt Shuckerow, didn’t immediately respond when asked if the governor supports that policy.

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