Four years ago their daughter was murdered. Now, they say a single legislator is holding up their bill.

Bree’s Law measure tangled in politics

Update: Following the publication of this story, three legislators on Friday made a procedural move called a Rule 48 Request to get this bill heard in committee. It's now scheduled to have a hearing 10 a.m. Saturday. The three lawmakers were Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, and Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage. A Rule 48 Request is when a majority of committee members turn in a signed request to the Senate President to force a hearing.

 

Four years ago, 20-year-old Bree Moore was murdered. She was shot to death by her then-boyfriend in Anchorage.

Her parents, Cindy and Butch, resolved to do what they could to keep other Alaskans from dying in similar acts of violence.

One year after Moore’s death, the Alaska Legislature passed the Alaska Safe Children’s Act, which includes a provision known informally as “Bree’s Law.” That provision requires schools to educate students from seventh through 12th grades about the dangers of dating violence and what to do when confronted by a violent partner.

Now, the Moores are back again. They’re asking the Legislature to formally name a section of the Safe Children’s Act in honor of Bree Moore.

It’s a simple idea, but it’s one that has become tangled in complicated political maneuvering. Despite overwhelming support in the House and Senate, it now seems in danger of dying with the end of the legislative session.

“This is ridiculous,” Cindy Moore said by phone on Thursday.

House Bill 214 is one of four pieces of legislation in the Legislature that would rename the Safe Children’s Act as the Moores want. It passed the House 38-0 in February, and 14 senators have signed their name in support of the bill.

Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, is not one of those senators.

That presents a problem for the Moores, because Coghill is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and HB 214 is in that committee. If Coghill doesn’t put HB 214 on his committee’s schedule, it can’t be be considered by the other senators on the committee and can’t advance to a vote of the full Senate.

Coghill doesn’t have a problem with the Safe Children’s Act. He does have a problem with the way Butch Moore has been lobbying for HB 214 in the Capitol, he told the Empire.

The Moores want to see national legislation on the Bree’s Law model, they told the Empire. They have garnered the support of Alaska’s Congressional delegation, but to get the support of other lawmakers in Congress, it helps to have a name-brand bill come from the Alaska Legislature.

Their analogy is the national movement behind the Amber Alert, a program to alert Americans of abducted children. That program was named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old abducted and murdered in 1996 in Texas.

“This is no different from Amber Alert or Megan’s Law. Did those need to be named in statute? No. But if they weren’t, would they be as recognizable?” Cindy Moore said.

Coghill doesn’t think Butch Moore is the right person to front the effort for a national movement, or to even carry Bree’s Law education into schools. He has been aggressive and has politically “blackmailed” lawmakers into supporting the bill, Coghill alleged.

“I think the method he has used to try to convince people of this is the same method he would try to use in schools, which I think I am not willing to turn loose on students and teachers and administrators,” Coghill said.

By phone, Butch Moore explained his side of things. Two weeks ago, he called Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, and tried to get her support for a procedural move to move HB 214 out of the Judiciary Committee without Coghill’s support. Moore thought he had reached an agreement with Costello, a cosponsor of HB 214, but when the deal appeared to be wavering, Moore admitted he “came unglued” with Costello’s staff. In a later interview, Butch explained that the legislative session could be over soon, and he got upset when the staffer said she might need more time.

Cindy Moore lives in Costello’s district. At one point in their conversation, Butch Moore told Costello, “if we’re not getting good representation from our representatives, then somebody else needs to go down there.”

Moore repeated his words to the Empire but he and Cindy Moore each said they weren’t serious about challenging Costello in this fall’s election.

Nevertheless, the threat hit a chord with Coghill, he said.

“He has been threatening people that he will get involved in their political races,” Coghill said in an interview. “Just based on that alone, the fact that he wants it so badly that he has gone to the national delegation, and he wants to take it throughout the states, and because of that kind of petulant persistence, I am unwilling to give him that authority in our statutes to take it on the road as his own franchise.”

Cindy Moore said it’s absurd to think they would need to threaten anyone: HB 214 already has more than enough support.

“We have had no opposition from anyone; there is no reason for us to threaten anyone,” she said.

Costello herself said she doesn’t have a problem with the Moores and still supports HB 214 and their effort.

“Butch and Cindy are understandably charged about the loss of their daughter,” she said.

Rep. Harriet Drummond, a Democrat from Anchorage who sponsored HB 214 in the House, thinks there may be something else at play. In 2016, the year after the Safe Children’s Act became law, Butch Moore became a passionate opponent of the criminal justice reform bill known as Senate Bill 91. That bill was sponsored by Coghill.

“I know that Butch pulled SB 91 and probably SB 54 into the conversation at some point, and being a civilian, he’s probably not as well-trained as we are to keep bills separate,” she said. “I think that got him in trouble with the chair of judiciary over there.”

Butch Moore and Coghill haven’t spoken since last year. The Moores said they repeatedly tried to contact Coghill through phone and email. Coghill’s office said the Moores left one phone message that was not returned.

Harriet Drummond has spoken to Coghill about the measure. When she spoke to him, she found his mind had been made up and he was not going to pass it, she told the Empire on Thursday.

By phone, the Moores said they haven’t given up. They’re now trying to convince members of the Senate to vote on the floor to take the bill from Coghill’s committee and onto the floor. That approach needs the votes of 11 senators.

Whether or not that move succeeds, they said they’re distressed that the move was even necessary. They feel they are being penalized for their views on an unconnected issue.

“As the parents of a daughter who was murdered, I think as regular citizens of the state of Alaska, I think we have the right to have a voice. I think we have the right to call into committee meetings on SB 91 and be able to testify and not be penalized for our testimony, and that’s what it comes down to,” Cindy Moore said.

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