On Friday, the Alaska Senate gaveled out of the special session after concurring with the changes the House made to SB 54, the “SB 91 fix-it” bill. Senate Bill 54 included several good fixes to SB 91. The first offense of a class C felony now carries a minimum jail time of 0-2 years, the second offense is 1-4 years and the third is 2-5 years. Class C felonies include vehicle theft, assault, and cruelty to animals among others. Here is a more expanded list of examples of class C felonies. These make up about 40% of the crime we see today.
Class A misdemeanors were increased to 0-5 days jail time for the first offense, and 0-365 days jail time for the second and third offenses. Class A misdemeanors include harassment, assault in the 4th degree (recklessly causing harm to another person), among other crimes.
Though there are many issues with the bill that could have been worked out in a conference committee of House and Senate members, Republican Senate leadership chose instead not to fix the problems – all but assuring that the state will go to court, having to defend what legal experts call an unconstitutional bill. The major constitutional issue we face is that the minimum jail time range for first offense of a C felony is the same range as for a class B felony which violates the constitution’s due process clause. Simply stated, you cannot have the same punishment for a more serious offense as for a lesser offense.
Any individual that is sentenced to a class C felony in the first degree between today and when the law gets overturned in court, and it is evident that it will, also may have recourse against the state. On top of all that, when SB 54 is overturned, the law will revert back to the original SB 91 provision which was a problem in the first place!
The bill also included a provision for mandatory 25-hour community service for criminal mischief. This has a logistical problem. Many communities throughout Alaska simply do not have a system of community service, making the required sentence hard to execute. It was extremely unfortunate that Republican Senate Leadership did not take the extra day it needed to fix these issues with the bill. It wouldn’t have been very difficult.
The most disappointing aspect of the Senate gaveling out of session was their lack of attention or attempt to create a sustainable fiscal plan, which is why this special session was called in the first place. There is a direct link between the increase in crime and our budget. The state is not funding the prosecutors we need to get the job done. There are simply not enough cops and troopers in our communities. We lack rehabilitation facilities. If we want to live in a safer community, we need to figure out how to pay for the things that are needed. Gaveling out and going home is not going to solve our problems.
The House Majority is making one last ditch effort to work on a fiscal plan by staying in session and calling the Senate back, but I am not sure it will work. Hopefully, a fiscal plan will be in our near future, but I’m not holding my breath.