A focus on criminal justice reform bills

by Senator Lyman Hoffman

Good morning,

It is day 116 of the 31st Legislative Session. This week the Senate Finance Committee has been focused on criminal justice reform through a slate of “crime bills” and the Capital Budget.

The first of the reform bills, HB 14, addressed what has been referred to as the “Schneider Loophole” based on an extremely egregious case last year. HB 14 heightens penalties on sexual violence related to that case to a first-degree assault.

Of the package of crime bills that are before the legislature, this one is a priority. This bill has seen lots of support from both bodies, there are 41 of the 60 legislators co-sponsored on this bill.

Another “crime bill” HB 49, repeals parts of SB 91 (passed in 2016), was heard Thursday afternoon in Senate Finance. HB 49 addresses penalties for motor vehicle thefts, heightened sentencing on hard drug trafficking, length of presumptive sentencing ranges for Class A &B felonies & misdemeanors, registration of sex offenders in state and out of state, felony crime for individuals soliciting indecent pictures of minors, and timely testing of sexual assault kits. This bill passed the House by a vote of 24-14.

On Tuesday SB 19, the Capital budget was heard and held, and on Wednesday it was passed out of Finance Committee. SB 19 spends $174 million in UGF to leverage over $1 billion in federal funds for roads, highways, airports, and clean water for villages.

Some quick highlights in the capital budget. $71 million going to deferred maintenance, $16.5 million going to Alaska Marine Highway System for an overhaul of a ferry vessel, $12 million will be used to unlock $52 million in Federal funds for village safe water projects. SB 19 passed the Senate by a vote of 20-0.

My bill (SB 91 Nuyakuk River Hydroelectric Site) moved out of Finance Committee on Monday, then was passed on the Senate Floor on Tuesday Unanimously. Now SB 91 is in the hands of the House Resources Committee and is scheduled for public testimony Friday at 1pm. In addition, SB 74 Internet for Schools passed the Senate on Thursday. It will now head to the House for consideration.

This week we had a very special guest in the Capital, Alaska’s last living Constitutional Delegate Vic Fischer. Vic was in town to testify in House State Affairs on the Governor’s Constitutional

Amendments. If you haven’t read about his testimony or seen it, it is worth a glance. He brings an insightful perspective to the overall conversation of Constitutional Amendments and their purpose to the process. Vic turned 95 years young while in Juneau to testify. Vic and his wife Jane are true pioneers of the state, shaping the foundation of the state that we know today.