Gov. Mike Dunleavy is seen in a screenshot of a news conference on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022, in Anchorage. Dunleavy said that if reelected, he will seek to raise the prison sentence for dealing illegal drugs that result in a death. (Screenshot)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy is seen in a screenshot of a news conference on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022, in Anchorage. Dunleavy said that if reelected, he will seek to raise the prison sentence for dealing illegal drugs that result in a death. (Screenshot)

Dunleavy plans longer prison terms for drug dealers linked to overdose deaths

The proposal would still have to pass muster with the Alaska Legislature

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said Monday that if reelected, he intends to propose legislation increasing the prison sentence for drug dealers who sell products that kill someone. The as-yet-unreleased legislation would also make convicted dealers ineligible for a particular type of parole and would create a vehicular homicide statute.

The proposal would still have to pass muster with the Alaska Legislature, and its prospects were impossible to determine Monday, one month before a general election that will significantly change the Legislature’s roster.

The governor’s proposal was announced at a conference with reporters and comes after Alaska had the largest increase in overdose deaths among U.S. states between 2020 and 2021.

It also arrives during the governor’s re-election campaign, with Dunleavy attempting to fend off challenges from Republican, independent and Democratic candidates.

Asked why the proposal is coming up now, instead of earlier in his term, Dunleavy said, “You continually address issues as they arise.”

The governor said state law enforcement officials intend to keep working with federal law enforcement to reduce the supply of drugs entering Alaska and said that education campaigns are key to reducing demand for illegal drugs.

Dunleavy made criminal justice issues a priority of his 2018 campaign for governor, and some pro-Dunleavy campaign ads have focused on a notable decrease in violent crime from 2019 through 2021. National comparisons are difficult because of incomplete reporting by some police departments, but Alaska’s violent-crime rate remains one of the highest among American states.

Legislative candidates in some districts say that as they go door to door, they’ve heard from voters who say crime is a top issue on their minds.

In August, two of Dunleavy’s three challengers answered an Anchorage Daily News questionnaire asking about the issue of drug addiction and overdoses.

Democratic governor candidate Les Gara has said he supports oil tax changes in part to fund additional police, troopers, prosecutors and drug-treatment programs for mid-and-low-level prisoners.

Independent candidate Bill Walker said that if elected, his administration would “fully fund public safety divisions that will address the crisis of opioid deaths.”

Republican candidate Charlie Pierce did not answer the questionnaire.

“We’re going to continue to address crime,” Dunleavy said on Monday. “We’re going to continue to address domestic assault, sexual violence, thefts, murders, drug dealing, because those are issues that anyone and everyone should be confronting and dealing with.”

• James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. This article originally appeared online at alaskabeacon.com. Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.

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