More Alaskans could carry alcohol-restricted driver’s licenses

Like modern versions of Hester Prynne, a growing deviant Alaskans could be forced to carry a scarlet reminder of their misdeeds.

In a 27-12 vote, the Alaska House has approved a measure requiring Alaskans to carry a red-striped driver’s license if they are on parole and forbidden from consuming alcohol as a result of a criminal case. The state already requires those guilty of DUI to carry licenses with a red banner proclaiming “alcohol restricted,” but the new measure would greatly increase the number of Alaskans required to carry the license modified to be visible by package store clerks and bartenders.

The measure was one of 20 amendments considered by the House as it held a second day of debates on the merits of Senate Bill 91, a sweeping criminal justice reform measure.

Despite working until 11 p.m., lawmakers did not finish considering all 40 amendments offered on the floor, and they are expected to resume their work at 1 p.m. Wednesday, and a vote on the bill as a whole could come as early as Wednesday afternoon.

Senate Bill 91 is the product of suggestions made by the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission, which was tasked by the Legislature to find ways to reduce Alaska’s prison population (and thus prison costs) by lowering the rate at which prisoners return to jail for crimes committed after their release.

The commission offered 21 suggestions, which were incorporated into SB 91 by Senate Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, who also served on the commission.

In broad strokes, the 116-page bill promotes alternatives to prison for nonviolent offenses. These include various forms of probation, electronic monitoring, and reinvestment programs that deter people from returning to crime.

The bill advanced without significant difficulty through the Senate, but it has encountered some resistance in the House. Lawmakers there generally approve of the bill’s goal but disagree about elements of the proposal. The amendments offered on the floor are attempts by various lawmakers to shape the bill to address those disagreements.

Rep. Andy Josephson, a Democrat from Anchorage, took center stage for much of Tuesday’s debates. Of the 20 amendments considered or withdrawn from consideration, 13 were his. None received a majority vote from his colleagues.

Josephson, a former prosecutor, attempted without success to walk back some of the cuts the bill makes to minimum sentences, particularly with regard to those applied to the state’s 64 class-C felonies. Under the bill, many would result in probation, not mandatory jail time.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m not enjoying this … please, think about the victims,” he said at one point, asking for jail as a minimum on 16 of the 64 felonies.

His arguments were opposed in particular by Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, and Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage and chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Both lawmakers repeatedly stood up to oppose Josephson, saying that his moves effectively act against the purpose of the bill, which is to find alternatives to simple prison time as a means of punishment.

Throughout the day, lawmakers bucked the traditional Republican/Democrat and majority caucus/minority caucus divide. In a bipartisan spirit, Republicans voted for Democratic amendments; Democrats voted for Republican amendments.


An amendment offered by Claman and LeDoux ─ then approved in a 20-17 vote ─ calls for automatic adjustments to the threshold for theft charges every five years. The boundary between misdemeanor and felony theft will be automatically raised to follow inflation.

Another amendment offered by the pair raises the maximum fine for a misdemeanor from $10,000 to $25,000.

Despite the bipartisan spirit, there were contentious moments, too.

An amendment offered by House Minority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, would have limited probation officers to a maximum workload of 60 cases.

In support of the amendment ─ the text of which was taken from House Bill 22, which died in committee ─ Tuck said that since SB 91 intensifies the use of probation, the state should make sure that probation is effective.

“This is the whole thing right here,” he said, sharing information from other states that have limited probation officers’ caseload and found greater success among those on probation.

But Tuck’s proposal was opposed by many in the Republican-led House majority caucus who said that while it’s a good idea, the state simply can’t afford it with a $4 billion annual deficit.

“I support the idea,” said Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, “but we don’t have much backup as to what it would cost.”

Tuck’s amendment was defeated in a 12-25 vote, largely on caucus lines.

The House will resume work Wednesday afternoon, starting with amendment No. 35. If Senate Bill 91 garners the necessary 21 votes in the House, it will return to the Senate, where lawmakers will be asked whether or not they agree with the changes the House has made.

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