A bill that would toughen penalties for smuggling alcohol into dry villages was held in the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday after questions were raised about its wording and effectiveness.
The original bill, sponsored by Reps. Bob Lynn, Eric Croft, Sharon Cissna and Harry Crawford, would have required the state to seek forfeiture of an aircraft, vessel or vehicle used to transport or facilitate the transportation of alcohol into a dry village. The law already allows that option, but the bill would require it.
The Transportation Committee is considering a substitute version of the measure that makes exceptions to the forfeiture if the vehicle is co-owned by someone who was not involved in or aware of the illegal activity.
Linda Wilson of the Alaska Public Defender Agency said that exception was an important distinction. She said her agency had been concerned a family could lose its sole means of transportation - a snowmachine, for example - if one member engaged in illegal activity.
Lynn, an Eagle River Republican, did not object to the change. He said the intent of the legislation, House Bill 65, was to strengthen existing laws.
"We need to support the laws of our villages, and put teeth into those village laws, so there is respect for the law," he said.
Alaska has 106 dry villages, including one in Southeast - Angoon. Dry villages ban possession or sale and importation of alcoholic beverages, according to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Another category, damp villages, bans the sale of alcohol. There are 19 of those in Alaska, including Port Alexander in Southeast. Port Protection, also in Southeast, is one of seven wet villages, which allow either community liquor licenses or package store licenses.
In his State of the State address in January, Gov. Frank Murkowski promised to crack down on bootleggers, saying he wanted his administration to have the reputation of being tough on crime.
"The governor has definitely said that he wants to take a tough stand on the importation of booze into dry villages and has mentioned a couple of times that if people lose their snowmachines and airplanes as a result of it, he doesn't have any sympathy for them," Murkowski spokesman John Manly said Tuesday.
Representatives of the state Department of Public Safety said the agency supports the bill. Transportation Committee members wondered whether the bill would be an effective deterrent, since the law already allows the state to seize the vehicles.
Members also took issue with wording in the bill substitute that would relieve an innocent co-owner of forfeiture of the vehicle if the co-owner was not aware that the guilty party "had a criminal record or reputation for violating (this law)."
"Reputations, it seems to me, are sometimes earned, but just as often as not, are not earned," said Rep. Hugh Fate, a Fairbanks Republican.
Committee Co-Chairwoman Beverly Masek, a Willow Republican, said there were too many questions to advance the bill, and said the committee would take it up again at a later date.
Masha Herbst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.