Deputy Attorney General John Skidmore speaks at a press conference in Anchorage on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022, to announce three bills introduced by Gov. Mike Dunleavy meant to address sex and human trafficking in the state. (Screenshot)

Deputy Attorney General John Skidmore speaks at a press conference in Anchorage on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022, to announce three bills introduced by Gov. Mike Dunleavy meant to address sex and human trafficking in the state. (Screenshot)

Gov introduces bills to combat sexual assault, human trafficking

Three bills with stronger penalties for patrons, relief for victims

Gov Mike Dunleavy on Friday submitted three bills to the Legislature aimed at combating sex trafficking. Dunleavy said the legislation was an effort to protect the state’s most vulnerable and hold enablers accountable.

At a news conference in Anchorage, Dunleavy said crime rates have been decreasing in Alaska but rates of domestic and sexual assault remain above the national average, which he called, “a stain on Alaska.”

“We must get the violent offenders off the streets, reduce the demand side of human and sex trafficking, and protect the rights of victims,” Dunleavy said.

The first bill, which was introduced in the House of Representatives Friday as House Bill 317, expands the definition and punishments for sex trafficking for patrons or those who aid and abet the promotion, sale or execution of sex crimes, among other changes.

Deputy Attorney General John Skidmore said the bills would increase penalties for patrons and in some cases make the crimes require registration as a sex offender. The state will also create a new crime, Skidmore said, that is the patron of sex trafficking.

“This will be a new crime in the state of Alaska such that if you are purchasing sex from an individual that you are reckless to the fact they are a victim of sex trafficking,” Skidmore said.

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That bill will also allow people who have been convicted of selling sex the ability to have their records expunged if they can prove they were the victim of sex trafficking, Skidmore said.

The second bill, HB 318, limits the ability of those who have been charged with a sex crime and must register as a sex offender to petition for a name change. Skidmore said that if a sex offender or someone on probation for a sex crime attempts to change their name they must notify either the Department of Public Safety, Department of Corrections, or the Alaska Court System. Those agencies would then notify victims of the name change, Skidmore said.

Similarly, HB 318 would require victims to be given at least 48 hours’ notice of a bail hearing for a sex offender and increase penalties for those who violate the condition of their release.

The last bill, HB 319, would fill a gap, Skidmore said, in the state’s sexual harassment laws.

“In our state currently it is not a crime to surprise someone to grab their genitals through their clothing,” Skidmore said. “Harassment has to use force. That harassment crime will be raised to a Class C felony, and a second offense will require registration as a sex offender.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to the Alaska State Legislature during his State of the State address on Jan. 25, 2022. On Friday the governor announced three crime bills aimed at combating sex trafficking in Alaska. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to the Alaska State Legislature during his State of the State address on Jan. 25, 2022. On Friday the governor announced three crime bills aimed at combating sex trafficking in Alaska. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file)

In December, Dunleavy announced his People First Initiative, an effort to strengthen collaboration between the Department of Public Security and the Department of Health and Social Services in order to better provide services to Alaskans in need, including victims of sexual and domestic abuse. The bills introduced Friday were an attempt to focus specifically on human and sex trafficking, Dunleavy said.

In the Alaska House of Representatives, the bills are known as HB 317, 318 and 319. The Senate held only a technical session Friday and the governor’s bill will be introduced in that body at its next floor session. Governors typically introduce bills into both chambers to allow both bodies to refine the bills.

Dunleavy said he believed there were many lawmakers for whom these were important issues, and though he hasn’t yet worked with any specific lawmakers to shepherd the bills through the Legislature he was confident they would be picked up. The reforms were introduced as three separate bills, Dunleavy said, to allow each issue to receive focus and attention.

The bills did not come with a fiscal note, but Dunleavy said the cost would be worth the results.

“There’s going to be a cost to this, we’re adding resources in order to get ahead of the cost of assault and being a victim,” Dunleavy said. “It’s a primary function of government that we protect our most vulnerable, I think most people are going to find the approach is going to be worth the cost. It’s a cost that should have been addressed a long time ago.”

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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