Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - Top members of the Walker Administration argued for passage of the crime bill fix when the Legislature convenes in special session next week while guests on Action Line Tuesday.
Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan and Deputy Attorney General Rob Henderson were the guests.
Senate Bill 54 is aimed at making tweaks to Senate Bill 91 approved in 2016 by the previous legislature.
The state officials were asked where Senate Bill 91 went wrong. Henderson responded by saying he wouldn't say that the legislation went wrong. "With any criminal justice legislation, we realize as its implemented there are small tweaks that have to occur. And that's what we found with SB 91." At that point he says they asked the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission to review the law and make recommendations for changes. Henderson says those recommendations became part of SB 54.
Commissioner Monegan added, "It's like any human endeavor. Sometimes we think we've got it all good on paper, but when you apply it into the real world, sometimes it takes a tweak or two."
The commissioner added that the creeping up of the crime level happened long before Senate Bill 91 or justice reform. "It started probably three years ago and that was when the opioid and other drug epidemics were hitting our communities." Monegan calls it a 'perfect storm'. "We had reform, we had a bail schedule rewrite, and then we had an opioid or a drug epidemic that hit us, as well as the downsizing of prosecutors and Troopers because of the budget situation."
The state officials were asked what will Senate Bill 54 allow law enforcement, prosecutors and the courts to do that they can't do now. Henderson responded by saying that at the core of Senate Bill 54 is that it really returns discretion to police officers, prosecutors and judges. He adds that one of the things they realize is that SB 91 inadvertently limited some of that discretion. "For example, it allows judges to impose jail time our lowest level of felonies, Class C felonies. So, if appropriate, a judge would have the ability to impose jail time if SB 54 passes."
Governor Walker says passage of Senate Bill 54 is a good first step in giving tools back to law enforcement and prosecutors. He says his administration is reaching out to federal, local, and tribal law enforcement partners to get input into a larger integrated plan.