Improving public safety remains a consensus priority among legislators, but senators from both sides of the aisle want to be deliberate in their approach to crime reform.
Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, who chairs the State Affairs Committee, said the Senate is breaking these crime bills down into “more digestible chunks” while in committee, as opposed to massive bills that overhaul the state’s criminal code, like Senate Bill 91 did. SB 91 is a controversial criminal reform bill passed into that that many have criticized for being too lenient and contributing to Alaska’s high crime rates.
“One of the intents is to slow this down as much as we need to,” Shower said during a Wednesday press conference, “to make sure we are not just rubber stamping bills that come from the administration, to make sure we’re taking a good hard look at things that need to be fixed.”
Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, agreed and said they should be “really careful” as they hammer out crime reform legislation.
“It’s so important to get every word of a criminal bill right, otherwise someone could walk free,” Kiehl said.
Kiehl pointed to Sen. Peter Micciche’s Senate Bill 12, which aims to close the “Schnieder Loophole.” According to a release from Soldotna Republican’s office, the bill would close the “Schneider Loophole,” which refers to the Justin Schneider case in Anchorage. Schneider strangled a woman until she passed out and then he ejaculated on her. He pleaded guilty to a single felony charge and served no additional jail time. His crime fell outside the criminal code’s definition of sexual assault and he walked out of court with no jail time. The Schneider case ignited outrage throughout the state.
Kiehl said the Senate Judiciary Committee was about to introduce a substitute bill for SB 12 today, but at the last minute it was decided the language was not quite right. The new version of the bill might be introduced Friday instead. As a result public testimony on the SB 12 has been postponed until the new bill is introduced.
With a deliberate approach to criminal reform what can Alaskans expect this year?
“I think the bill to close the sex crime loopholes (SB 35) goes this year,” Kiehl said. “Each of the others (SB 32-34) have some major implications.”
Kiehl noted that crime reform can be expensive, so in passing legislation, the most “important thing” is “actually reducing crime.”
“We have to make sure we’re reducing crime, not (passing legislation) on knee-jerk reactions,” Kiehl said.
• Contact reporter Kevin Baird at 523-2258 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @alaska_kev.