Rep. Daniel Ortiz, NA-Ketchikan, left, Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, center, and Rep. Dean Westlake, D-Kotzebue, greet each other on the first day of the fourth Special Session of the 30th Alaska Legisture on Monday, Oct. 23, 2017.

Rep. Daniel Ortiz, NA-Ketchikan, left, Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, center, and Rep. Dean Westlake, D-Kotzebue, greet each other on the first day of the fourth Special Session of the 30th Alaska Legisture on Monday, Oct. 23, 2017.

From across Alaska, residents try to sway Legislature on SB 54

The calls came from Bethel, Nome and Fairbanks. There were plenty from Anchorage and the Mat-Su, and some from Southeast.

On Tuesday night, members of the Alaska House Judiciary Committee heard more than three hours of public testimony on Senate Bill 54, a partial rollback of last year’s criminal justice reform bill, Senate Bill 91.

Members of the committee heard from 71 people in person or by phone: According to a count kept by committee staff, 28 voiced support for SB 54 or SB 91; another 33 opposed SB 54 or called for the repeal of SB 91. The opinion of the remainder could not be determined.

Callers’ opinions differed generally along geographic lines and lines of perspective. Testifiers from Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough generally called for legislators to reject SB 54 and completely repeal SB 91. Callers away from those areas were generally in favor of the two bills.

Attorneys, former judges, and those who interact with accused Alaskans (including some redeemed inmates themselves) generally called for the Legislature to pass SB 54 or give SB 91 additional time to work. Crime victims almost universally were against that idea.

“SB 91 is not the cause of the crime wave we are seeing across Alaska. It is opiates and heroin,” said James Christie, a criminal defense lawyer in Anchorage.

Elizabeth Fleming, a defense attorney in Kodiak, reminded lawmakers that research shows long jail sentences don’t deter people from committing crimes again.

“If we treat like them like animals, they will become animals,” she said.

Pat Tyson of Wasilla said that doesn’t matter.

“You’re a criminal when you go to jail. Jail doesn’t make you a criminal. It might make you a better criminal, but that’s not my problem,” he testified.

Former Anchorage Superior Court Judge Sen Tan asked lawmakers to stick to the evidence-based policies of the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission, which drafted the recommendations that went into SB 91 and SB 54.

“Make good policy decisions. You have done a good job. Continue by relying on good data, and we will all be safer and better as a result of it,” he said.”

But there was also Mike Schaffer, a prosecutor at the Municipality of Anchorage, who said that “SB 91 and its aftermath (have) wreaked criminal havoc on the state and on Anchorage.”

Speaking on his own behalf, and not that of the city, he said he’s seen an increase in crime at all levels since SB 91 was signed into law.

Some of the victims of that crime offered their stories.

Leonard Martin of Anchorage, who told lawmakers that one of his family members was murdered this year, said the Legislature made a mistake by not investing in prison alternatives before implementing SB 91.

“You got the cart ahead of the horse on this one, guys,” he said.

“Please make SB 54 substantially tougher. If I could repeal SB 91, I would,” said Edith Grunwald of Palmer. “We must have consequences, even at the lower level, to keep crimes from escalating.”

Grunwald is the mother of David Grunwald, a 16-year-old murdered in late 2016. Edith Grunwald is running for lieutenant governor.

“SB 54 will be the equivalent of putting a Band-Aid on a leg amputation,” said Noria Clark, who urged the Legislature to pass a “three-strikes” law like her home state of Arizona has. Under Arizona law, repeat felonies result in more prison time.

Jose Delgado told lawmakers he believes he was one of the first people sentenced for a crime under SB 91. In September, he was sentenced for firing a gun toward a man who allegedly stole his dog.

Today, thanks to that bill, he’s working a $6,000 per-month job at a laboratory that tests mining samples. He wore an ankle monitor as he testified.

“Jail does not do anything but make people worse,” he said.

After the public testimony, members of the House Judiciary Committee spent Wednesday debating amendments to SB 54. That process is expected to continue into Thursday.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com.


More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of June 22

Here’s what to expect this week.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, June 20, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Pins supporting the repeal of ranked choice voting are seen on April 20 at the Republican state convention in Anchorage. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
State judge upholds most fines against group seeking repeal of Alaska ranked choice voting

An Anchorage Superior Court judge has ruled that opponents of Alaska’s ranked… Continue reading

Joshua Midgett and Kelsey Bryce Riker appear on stage as the emcees for MixCast 2023 at the Crystal Saloon. (Photo courtesy Juneau Ghost Light Theatre)
And now for someone completely different: Familiar faces show new personas at annual MixCast cabaret

Fundraiser for Juneau Ghost Light Theatre on Saturday taking place amidst week of local Pride events

Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire
A section of Angoon along the coast is seen on June 14. Angoon was destroyed by the U.S. Navy in 1882; here is where they first pulled up to shore.
Long-awaited U.S. Navy apology for 1882 bombardment will bring healing to Angoon

“How many times has our government apologized to any American Native group?”

Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon announced this week she plans to seek a third three-year term. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Mayor Beth Weldon seeking third term amidst personal and political challenges

Low mill rate, more housing cited by lifelong Juneau resident as achievements during past term.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, June 19, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

A king salmon is laid out for inspection by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at the Mike Pusich Douglas Harbor during the Golden North Salmon Derby on Aug. 25, 2019. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file photo)
Emergency order bans king salmon fishing in many Juneau waters between June 24 and Aug. 31

Alaska Department of Fish and Game says low projected spawning population necessitates restrictions

Three cruise ships are docked along Juneau’s waterfront on the evening on May 10, as a Princess cruise ship on the right is departing the capital city. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Sitka residents join those in Juneau proposing hard caps on cruise ships as tourism grows

Two ballot measures could be presented to local voters in the two Southeast Alaska towns this fall

Most Read