Alaska Digest

Posted: Friday, February 17, 2006

Senate OKs stiffer sex abuse sentences

JUNEAU - The state Senate on Thursday unanimously approved toughening sentences for sex offenders.

The bipartisan bill also requires the use of lie detector tests for offenders on parole or probation.

Under the bill, prison terms would increase as much as three to 10 times what they are currently for the most serious crimes.

The bill sponsor, Sen. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, said longer sentences are designed to protect the public from those sex offenders who are most inclined to reoffend.

Alaska has been No. 1 in the nation for sexual assault since 1995. Bunde said the numbers understate a bigger problem.

"Many cases of sexual assault and abuse go unreported. Yet we have over 4,000 registered sex offenders in our state right now," he said. "So it is with great concern and shame that I must bring this bill before you."

Bunde told senators the bill "is not an inexpensive cure," but it's unclear how expensive it will be.

Deputy Commissioner of Corrections Portia Parker said the higher sentences will cost the department in the long run but it is impossible to say how much.

The polygraph program, which includes supervision and treatment, is expected to cost the state about $2 million per year.

The bill now heads to the House.

UAF OKs tuition break for Outside students

FAIRBANKS - The University of Alaska Fairbanks is offering a tuition break for Outside students enrolled in summer classes.

The offer amounts to approximately a $1,200 discount, but university officials caution it applies only to summer classes.

Michelle Bartlett, UAF's summer sessions director, said she's hoping once the visiting students come, they'll stay and finish their education at UAF.

"Out-of-state students might be enticed to come," she said. "Try it. You might love it here."

Summer sessions, which will offer more than 300 classes from May through August, typically have lower student enrollment, she said.

The classes tend to be held in more unusual places in the summer, such the Brooks Range, the Chilkoot Trail and the Katmai National Park.

"We've got a lot of classes we could fill with students," Bartlett said.

Out of the 2,800 students who take summer classes, about 2.2 percent, or 63 students, are from out of state. That's a big difference between the winter enrollment number of 10 percent.

Usually a nonresident pays regular state tuition of $109 per credit hour for a 100 or 200 level class up to four credits, the same price Alaska residents pay. Once out-of-state students add a fifth credit to their schedules, they are charged $363 per credit.

Judge dismisses fatal drunken driving case

FAIRBANKS - A Superior Court judge dismissed a manslaughter indictment against a Fairbanks woman accused of being drunk and speeding when she collided with another motorist, killing him last year.

The district attorney says that 30-year-old Faith Derendoff is not off the hook.

"Before it's all said and done, I anticipate that (Derendoff) will be prosecuted for manslaughter," said District Attorney Jeff O'Bryant.

The crash at a city intersection was recorded by a security camera at a nearby Sourdough Fuel station. The video shows that the man bypassed a stop sign and Derendoff had the right of way.

Derendoff's attorney asked for the dismissal, saying the district attorney mischaracterized the video to the grand jury and more or less talked jurors out of viewing it.

Presiding Superior Court Judge Niesje Steinkruger agreed. The judge's five-page order issued Monday says that the video recording is "substantially favorable to the defendant" and that the district attorney offered "improper testimony" about the nature of the film.

O'Bryant declined to say in what manner further charges would be brought against Derendoff, who is in her third trimester of pregnancy. He said Wednesday he hadn't had a chance to thoroughly read the judge's order.

Military bases get new phone policy

ANCHORAGE - Military bases in Alaska will soon have a new policy requiring hands-free devices for anyone talking on cell phones while driving.

The policy barring talking on hand-held phones while driving already is in place at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage and Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks, and at the Kulis National Guard Base in Anchorage.

The restriction applies beyond the base or post if someone, military or civilian, takes a government vehicle off base, said the 3rd Wing, headquartered at Elmendorf.

Military personnel do not have to comply with the cell phone restriction when off base and in their own vehicles.

Right now, an infraction will bring a warning. But starting March 1, drivers could lose base-driving privileges for 30 days, according to officials in the Air Force's 3rd Wing.

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