The Alaska Legislature convened for a special session Thursday after failing to finish its work on time Wednesday.
The Legislature will consider a compromise criminal justice bill next week that will lead to longer criminal sentences. And members of both the House and Senate say the compromise on House Bill 49 fully repeals the controversial three-year-old law known as Senate Bill 91.
Wasilla Republican Sen. Mike Shower said the bill provides what residents concerned about crime have been seeking.
“This is now a repeal of SB 91,” Shower said. “It’s gone. It’s wiped out. There is nothing left of that bill that matters to the public or impacts public safety, so that is the foremost thing Alaskans wanted — they demanded it, we did it. I don’t know how we did, but we did, and it’s done.”
Anchorage Republican Rep. Chuck Kopp said members from both chambers found areas to improve the bill by working together. Kopp said the next step for the state is to invest in rehabilitating people who’ve committed crimes.
“We can’t just be tough on crime and not realize we also have to be tough on the causes of crime, which is largely substance abuse, behavioral health, mental health issues,” he said.
Anchorage Democratic Rep. Matt Claman said the compromise is a first step.
“The risk with longer sentences is that if we don’t have rehabilitation as part of it, what we’re going to see is more and more expenses for corrections and eventually a need to build another prison,” he said.
Kopp said he expects the bill to cost more than $100 million per year. The cost will include reopening Palmer Correctional Center. Lawmakers said the increase in the number of prisoners will also lead to some prisoners being sent out of state.
The House plans to consider the compromise bill on Monday. The Senate will take it up later next week.
The compromise was worked out Tuesday and Wednesday by the conference committee on HB 49. The committee members from the Senate are Palmer Republican Shelley Hughes, Anchorage Democrat Bill Wielechowski and Shower. The House members are Anchorage Republican Lance Pruitt, Claman and Kopp.
The crime bill was one of three items that Gov. Mike Dunleavy included on his call for the special session. The other items are three budget bills and a bill on education funding.
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