House votes to partially roll back Senate Bill 91

In predawn vote Tuesday, lawmakers approve Senate Bill 54; measure now returns to Senate for consideration

Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, center, and Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, speak before the Fourth Special Session of the Alaska Legislature gavels in on Monday, Oct. 23, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The Alaska House of Representatives has voted to roll back the controversial criminal justice measure Senate Bill 91, but lawmakers failed to pass a full repeal as some Alaskans wanted.

 

The House approved the rollback measure, Senate Bill 54, with a 32-8 vote at precisely 1 a.m. Tuesday. The bill heads to the Senate for consideration.

The Senate passed SB 54 earlier this year, but because the House changed the measure, the changes must be approved by the Senate before the bill becomes law.

If the Senate rejects the House’s changes, the House and the Senate must come up with a compromise measure.

The Legislature will have a tight deadline to decide that compromise: The ongoing special session’s 30-day limit expires at the end of next week.

In a prepared statement after the bill’s passage, Gov. Bill Walker said he looks forward to signing the bill when it reaches his desk.

Tuesday morning’s vote came after a marathon series of amendments that began at 6 p.m. Monday evening.

Between 6 and 11 p.m., lawmakers considered — then voted upon — 26 amendments to the bill. In the three previous days, they had managed to navigate only 22 amendments as lawmaker after lawmaker stood to speak on each procedural issue.

On Monday evening, the mood changed.

“We’re being asked to run a marathon as fast as we can tonight,” said Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Wasilla.

Only one or two lawmakers spoke about each amendment, instead of the lugubrious horde of previous days. Comments were brief, with amendments considered and quickly discarded or accepted.

Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon had set a 5 p.m. Monday deadline for lawmakers to turn in amendment proposals to the House clerk, and after that tight deadline, lawmakers seemed to carry the need for speed into their floor debates.

Some of those arguments succeeded, while others fell flat.

“I’m glad to see there was something we could all finally agree on,” said Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, after one of his amendments failed without a single vote in favor — not even his own.

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.

Though the process of amending SB 54 in the House has been a contentious one, most lawmakers lined up in support of the final product when the last vote came.

“Of course, it would have been my wish to repeal Senate Bill 91 altogether,” said House Minority Leader Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage. “So the next best thing to do is to make a bad law better.”

Not everyone agreed with that approach, and they didn’t always have the same reasons for disagreement.

Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, voted against SB 54 because he feels it goes too far in rolling back SB 91, an act that will cost the state money without reducing crime.

“What I worry about is that we made changes that I don’t have any evidence … that will result in increased public safety,” he said.

“We’ve amended the bill to the point, in my opinion, that we are not going to have adequate savings that we originally put into Senate Bill 91 in order to pay for some of the important and necessary recidivism and treatment programs,” he said.

Eastman also voted against SB 54, but he said his vote came because the bill didn’t go far enough.

“What I’m hearing is that if you’re going to be a criminal, you should be a criminal in Alaska,” he said.

“I see it as an abandonment of actual justice,” he added.

From almost all legislators, there was an acknowledgement that Tuesday morning’s vote — and the final vote that will follow — is only one step in a process that will continue early next year as lawmakers set the budgets for the state’s law-enforcement agencies.

“We know this isn’t going to work unless we put the money exactly where it needs to go,” said Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage.

VOTING YES

• Rep. Chris Birch, R-Anchorage

• Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski

• Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage

• Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage

• Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham

• Rep. Zach Fansler, D-Bethel

• Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome

• Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage

• Rep. Jason Grenn, I-Anchorage

• Rep. Jennifer Johnston, R-Anchorage

• Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage

• Rep. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks

• Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Soldotna

• Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage

• Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka

• Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage

• Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage

• Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan

• Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau

• Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage

• Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River

• Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River

• Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer

• Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage

• Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak

• Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy

• Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage

• Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks

• Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage

• Rep. Dean Westlake, D-Kotzebue

• Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole

• Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks

VOTING NO

• Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla

• Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks

• Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer

• Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau

• Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake

• Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton

• Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla

• Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla

Correction: This story has been updated to correct one reference to SB 54.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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