JUNEAU, Alaska — The House Judiciary Committee on Monday advanced a bill instructing state judges not to be swayed in their sentencing by the possible deportation of a defendant.
That instruction to state judges was an amendment to a bill from House Speaker Mike Chenault concerning felony sentencing for assault on correctional employees. The bill advanced on 5-2 vote.
Reps. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, and Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, voted against the bill with the amendment attached. They said they would have supported the bill if it had not been for the amendment.
At issue was the fear that three-judge appeal panels would give lesser sentences to naturalized citizens so that the person could avoid deportation by the federal government without the ability to return to the United States.
Opponents of the amendment said the unseen consequences of deportation were the breaking up of Alaskan families and the loss of the family's bread winner.
Gruenberg told the committee the bill should not be advanced because it may be ruled unconstitutional. He said he had no doubt the bill would be challenged if it became law due to the amendment and that the state would be out the costs of defending the new law.
"There has not been a judge at any level in Alaska that has taken up this approach," Gruenberg said.
Gruenberg's concerns drew fire from Republican Reps. Bob Lynn and Rep. Charisse Millett of Anchorage.
"There should be just one set of rules for everybody," Lynn said.
Millett said her research showed not a single Alaska family had been torn apart through deportation in the last six years. She noted handing out a one-day lesser sentence for naturalized citizens based on a fear of deportation not only meant that person was given a lesser sentenced than an Alaska-born defendant, but that they also do not serve the required probation period most must serve.
"It degrades the integrity of our courts," she said. "And what about the victims here?"
Last week Gruenberg had arranged for nationally recognized authorities on immigration to testify against the amendment. The consensus from his witnesses was that the memo provided by the state Attorney General's office advising Chenault on the amendment was flawed.
In response, representatives from the Department of Law told the committee the memo was not intended to be a legal memo to Chenault but a summation. However, they said the department is not an expert on immigration law.
The bill moves on to the House Rules Committee.