State lawmakers approve crime bills

Posted: Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bootleggers, sex offenders and child pornographers were targeted by state lawmakers for stiffer penalties in a pair of sweeping crime bills.

With the legislative session down to its final hours, lawmakers passed new crime laws late Friday and early Saturday.

A Senate bill and a House bill generated a flurry of activity and produced compromises during an 18-hour span.

A bill by Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, started out as a sex offender bill and became an omnibus measure that includes offerings from several lawmakers, plus Gov. Sarah Palin.

With so much attention focused on arguments between lawmakers and Palin over how much money to spend and how much to save, the bills quietly meshed into a one document Wednesday.

"It's a more efficient way of moving policy through," McGuire said. "The public has seen a lot of discussion about places where the legislature and the governor disagree.

"Pulling together sections of the governor's crime package, the House bills and the Senate bills was symbolic of the kinds of things we can do."

The 21-page document produced changes that include:

- Keeping convicted sex offenders from receiving an Alaska Permanent Fund dividend if they do not comply with the state's Sex Offender Registry.

- Making a third offense for bootlegging within 15 years a class C felony, which carries a maximum fine of $50,000 and five years in jail.

- Calling for pawnshops in cities with a population above 5,000 to maintain electronic records of all transactions to help law enforcement officials track down stolen property.

- Allowing the state to pursue court-ordered restitution from anyone convicted of unlawfully taking game.

- Requiring computer technicians to report any child pornography found on a computer to law enforcement.

McGuire's bill features portions of bills from Rep. Anna Fairclough, R-Eagle River.

"This helps society take a look at how we treat each other and how we hold people accountable," Fairclough said. "What you're seeing is a maturity in the state and the laws we are trying to address."

While the House debated McGuire's bill, the Senate backed a bill sponsored by Rep. Lindsey Holmes, D-Anchorage, aimed at offenders with repeat assault convictions.

A person convicted of a third misdemeanor assault within 10 years will be subject to a Class C felony sentence. Convictions incurred before the law goes into effect are not counted toward the third strike.

The bill first was aimed at repeat domestic violence offenders. It was broadened to include other assaults.

"There are some other violent three-time offenders," Holmes said. "It's going to be easier to get the convictions we are interested in."

Jurisprudence comes with a price tag.

McGuire's bill calls for hiring a criminal justice technician and one Alaska State Trooper investigator and that will cost $250,000 for salaries, travel money and supplies.

Additionally, the Department of Law will need $200,000 for a special prosecutor to pursue cases of Internet crimes. The money also covers a salary for an office assistant and equipment.

Holmes' bill could boost the prison population by more than 400 inmates through 2014, according to the Department of Corrections.

The report estimates each offender will be jailed for up to 18 months. If that figure is reached, costs for probation officers and incarceration could reach $20.8 million.

The bills are SB 265 and HB 307.

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