House floor debates over Senate Bill 54 enter their fourth day today after a tumultuous weekend that saw the Speaker of the House warn Alaska State Troopers about threats against lawmakers.
On Sunday afternoon, with the Alaska House of Representatives debating another in a series of amendments to the controversial bill, Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon interrupted: “We contacted the chief security officer here in the Capitol in relation to a posting on social media suggesting that there be retaliation against members of this body for actions that were taking on earlier amendments,” he said.
On Monday, Edgmon confirmed that the post in question was on the Facebook page of Rep. Chris Birch, R-Anchorage. The post was from a person Facebook identifies as Ashley Dahm.
“I openly call for every Alaskan to steal and vandalize each one of these Senators’ vehicles since they refuse to repeal SB 91 and coddle the guilty,” Dahm wrote. “Fair game now to shoot thieves on the spot in the act from this. You don’t want to protect the innocent, gloves come off now.”
According to the Troopers’ dispatch notes, an investigation into the post is ongoing. The Capitol’s security officer declined to talk about the incident or what steps are being taken in response.
Alaskans across the state have become heated as lawmakers prepare to roll back portions of the criminal justice bill known as Senate Bill 91.
Passed last year, SB 91 promoted alternatives to long prison terms in an effort to reduce the number of people who return to jail after a first offense. If successful, that approach would reduce prison costs.
The passage of SB 91 has not led to an immediate drop in crime; in fact, most crime rates have increased as the state grapples with an economic recession and a wave of opioid drug addiction. Backers of SB 91 say the measure has not been fully implemented and must be given time to work. They argue that only limited changes are needed.
Opponents say they want action now and believe SB 91 is contributing to the crime wave. They are calling for a total repeal of SB 91 or a significant rollback of its effects.
Repeal vote fails
The most significant vote of the weekend came late Saturday night when Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, introduced an amendment to repeal “99 percent” of Senate Bill 91.
Tilton’s amendment had the backing of much of the House Republican Minority and of Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage and a member of the coalition majority.
“You can’t polish a turd, and Senate Bill 91 was a turd,” said Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Wasilla, in a comment that brought condemnation from Edgmon.
Tilton’s amendment failed on a 13-27 vote, however, as several members of the minority joined with every other member of the majority to oppose it.
While almost every member of the House offered a speech in support or opposition to the amendment, Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, offered perhaps the best summation of the keep-91 viewpoint when she said, “SB 91 didn’t create crime. SB 91 came along at a bad time.”
Tougher sentences for C felonies
While the repeal amendment failed, several amendments have been accepted by the House during the first three days of debate on SB 54.
An amendment from Reinbold, which passed (after modification from Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage) in a 26-13 vote, allows judges to sentence people to longer terms for a class C felony.
Class C felonies are the lightest level of felony, and according to figures from the Alaska Department of Corrections, C-felony offenders account for 40 percent of the people in Alaska prisons.
Reinbold’s amendment calls for 0-2 years in prison for a first C felony, 1-4 years for a second C felony, and 2-5 years for a third C felony. Those sentences apply only if there is no aggravating factor, such as if the felon used a firearm when committing the crime.
Other approved amendments increased the probation period for a C felony, allowed judges to impose more jail time if someone has multiple Class A misdemeanors, increased penalties for petty theft, broadened the definition of criminal mischief, and required Courtview to publish criminal sentences as part of the online public record.
Deadline for amendments
After a full weekend of work considering and voting upon amendments, public activity Monday was sparse.
Much of the House’s work Monday happened behind closed doors as lawmakers prepared amendments ahead of a 5 p.m. deadline.
Amendments must be given to the House clerk before being considered, and although lawmakers had submitted more than 130 amendment ideas to be drafted by Legislative staff, lawmakers submitted only 26 to the clerk by the deadline. Those 26 were in addition to 22 already considered by the Legislature.
Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon set the 5 p.m. deadline in an attempt to close discussion on Senate Bill 54 and move the measure over to the Senate. The Senate approved SB 54 in a 19-1 vote earlier this year, but the House has significantly changed the bill since then, and the Senate must concur with the changes or reject them.
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