Few support Anchorage's Josephson in crime bill debate

The Alaska House of Representatives hosted the Andy Josephson show on Tuesday afternoon, but the procession of amendments offered by the Anchorage Democrat garnered poor ratings from his fellow lawmakers, who turned down every one of his proposals.

 

The House continued its consideration of amendments to Senate Bill 91, convening at 1 p.m. in the Terry Miller Building’s gymnasium to discuss one of the biggest changes to Alaska’s criminal justice system since statehood.

Senate Bill 91, the product of suggestions made by the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission, is intended to lower Alaska’s prison population (and thus prison costs) by reducing the rate at which prisoners return to jail for crimes committed after their release.

It does this by encouraging alternatives to prison for nonviolent offenses. These include various forms of probation, electronic monitoring, and reinvestment programs.

The bill has been championed by Senate Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, but it has run into stiff questions from members of the House.

Josephson, a former prosecutor, said the bill doesn’t do what backers have said — it doesn’t reduce penalties only for nonviolent offenses.

“I have found nine ways that violent offenders … can make their way out of state custody faster,” Josephson said at one point, and his amendments were largely targeted at these nine ways.

Proposed amendments seven through 24 were Josephson’s, though he withdrew some of them from consideration when it appeared that they would fail.

There were 40 proposed amendments by 4 p.m. Monday.

Voting did not fall along the traditional Republican-Democratic or House majority-minority lines; the crime bill has garnered significant support in general but opposition to specific elements within it.

That fact meant unusual allies joined forces. Josephson was supported in his amendments by Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, who called SB 91 “an extremely unconstitutional bill.”

On one amendment, Rep. Les Gara (D-Anchorage) had cosponsors including Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, and Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla. That amendment was later withdrawn, with Gara declaring that lawmakers would work on it over the interim.

The bipartisan process behind the bill has also generated close votes. Amendment No. 27, sponsored by Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, and Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, would have set the threshold for felony theft at $1,000 but adjusted that amount for inflation every five years. The amendment failed 19-19.

The House paused for a dinner break at 5 p.m. and were scheduled to resume work at 7 p.m. At press time, they were working on amendment No. 28 of 40.

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