House committees take different approach on crime bills

Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, speaks during a House floor session in Juneau on April 11, 2019.
Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, speaks during a House floor session in Juneau on April 11. Kopp said Saturday that the House Judiciary Committee’s version of House Bill 49 is a good starting point for making changes to criminal sentencing. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Competing crime bills are advancing in the Alaska Legislature.

Four major bills proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy have advanced to the Senate Finance Committee. Senate Bill 35 would increase penalties for sex offenses. Senate Bill 32 would reverse reductions to sentences from the 2016 law known as Senate Bill 91, and introduce a new category of crime called terroristic threatening.  Senate Bill 33 would increase bail and give judges more discretion in how people charged with crimes are released before trials. And Senate Bill 34 would reduce the use of parole, so that prisoners will spend more time in jail.

But House members have brought different ideas on addressing crime to the House Judiciary and House Finance committees.

The House Judiciary Committee moved House Bill 49 and House Bill 145, both of which include some elements of the different crime bills that have advanced in the Senate.

Anchorage Republican Rep. Chuck Kopp said Saturday that the Judiciary Committee’s version of HB 49 is a good starting point for making changes to criminal sentencing.

“This has incorporated numerous specific requests from the law enforcement community over — I think a dozen different sections came directly from (the Alaska Department of) Public Safety,” said Kopp, the House Rules Committee chairman. “And more than that came directly from the governor’s bill. It gives us a working document. There will be more amendments. We know we need a vehicle to improve crime, and this gives us a good starting point.”

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, speaks during a House floor session, March 11, 2019. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

But Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman said the bills moved by the Judiciary Committee are too complex.

“I had thought we had learned a lesson from what happened with SB 91 and all of the subsequent fallout,” he said. “Even those who supported it had to support continual bills of revision because it was just so big.”

The House Finance Committee has taken yet another approach. It has amended House Bill 20, which was originally intended to improve the reporting and timeliness of rape kit testing.

The committee added provisions that are closer to Dunleavy’s proposals to reverse the SB 91 sentencing reductions than the bills moved by the Judiciary Committee.

Members of the House majority caucus planned to meet late Tuesday to discuss what crime legislation will advance to the House floor.

Watch the latest legislative coverage from Gavel Alaska:

Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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