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Bill would have vandals pay more

Measure would remove caps on parents' liability

Posted: Wednesday, December 29, 2004

A Republican and Democrat in the Alaska Senate have proposed a bill for the 2005 legislative session to toughen laws on minors caught vandalizing.

The proposal by Sen. Gretchen Guess, D-Anchorage, and Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, removes caps on parents' liability for their childrens' vandalism, allows the court to establish a payment plan and makes the minor responsible for debt before and after they turn 18. State law now caps parent liability at $25,000, according to Guess.

The bill also would allow the state to garnish Alaska Permanent Fund dividend checks for vandals who have not repaid their debts, Guess said.

"For the first time it could hold minors accountable, if the court sees fit, before the child turns 18," Guess said.

Dyson could not be reached for comment.

Guess said the Anchorage School District budgets $300,000 annually to cover vandalism costs. This year Anchorage schools suffered five cases of playground vandalism by minors, costing between $10,000 and $123,000, according to Guess.

Juneau School District Superintendent Peggy Cowan said she supports the proposal. The district expects to pay about $40,000 for acts of vandalism committed in 2004. Much of the cost comes from an incident this June at the Mendenhall River Community School, where vandals smashed 16 windows, three glass doors, a computer and stole other school equipment.

"It communicates that vandalism is vandalism and we take it very seriously and there is accountability," Cowan said. "We obviously are interested in the limited dollars we have going to classrooms, teachers and textbooks rather than paying for repairs to vandalism."

District funds not only go toward repairing damaged property but also preventing future vandalism, said School Board President Mary Becker.

She said installing surveillance cameras was one of the additions to Juneau-Douglas High School when it underwent renovations in 2003.

"(Vandalism) hurts everybody," Becker said. "It stops growth that we could otherwise have. It's a waste of money."

Guess said payment plans would be up to the discretion of the courts and that she intends the proposal to capture payment for damages without "bankrupting families."

"It's the concept that you might be paying $50 a month for the rest of your life," she said.

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothy.inklebarger@juneauempire.com.



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