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 Of the 20 amendments considered or withdrawn from consideration, 13 were his.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.

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.

Eddie Petrie shovels gravel into a mine cart as fast as possible during the men’s hand mucking competition as part of Juneau Gold Rush Days on Saturday at Savikko Park. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Mucking, trucking, chucking and yukking it up at Juneau Gold Rush Days

Logging competitions, live music, other events continue Sunday at Savikko Park.

(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

Most Read