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Anchorage

Anchorage Assembly calls for ‘fixing,’ but not repealing, SB 91

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: October 10
  • Published October 10

Members of the Anchorage Assembly said Tuesday night Alaska's sweeping criminal justice reform law is flawed, and encouraged state lawmakers to make changes to it.

At the same time, the Assembly stopped short of calling for the law, known as Senate Bill 91 or SB 91, to be repealed, even while criticizing it in sharp terms.

"The mistakes are evident and they're going to fix it," said Assemblyman John Weddleton of South Anchorage.

The massive bill, which was signed by Alaska Gov. Bill Walker in July 2016, has become a lightning rod in broad community frustrations over crime. The bill aimed to reduce the prison population and reinvest savings in supervision and treatment programs.

Defenders of the bill say that there's no evidence of a link between SB 91 and an uptick in criminal behavior in Anchorage, and the law has not had enough time to fully take effect. The governor has asked state lawmakers to consider revisions to the law during a special session later this month.

The Assembly took four hours of testimony from people on both sides of the issue in an unusual Saturday hearing. Many asked for the law to be repealed, an idea that has gathered steam among some state lawmakers.

In a resolution passed Tuesday night, the Assembly asked state officials to make sure that treatment or other programs were in place before prisoners were released from custody. It also called for rolling back changes to probation, sentencing and bail.

The non-binding resolution effectively serves as a letter to lawmakers voicing Anchorage's opinion on the issue. Assemblywoman Amy Demboski was the only one who opposed it, saying she favored repeal.

A separate resolution calling for repeal failed 8-3, with Demboski, Dick Traini and Eric Croft the yes votes.

During the meeting, the Assembly also passed an ordinance to make it easier for city prosecutors to charge anyone caught riding in a stolen car with a crime, not just the driver.

Reports of vehicle thefts have spiked significantly in Anchorage since the winter of 2015, according to police data.

Officials say they hope the new ordinance, which would allow passengers in stolen vehicles to be charged with criminal negligence, could help catch people associated with other crimes. The prior law required prosecutors to prove the passenger knew the vehicle was stolen, and convictions were extremely rare.

In other business Tuesday night, the Assembly set up penalties associated with mold in hotels, and allowed the city-owned trash utility, Solid Waste Services, to waive fees for customers who want to order bear-resistant garbage cans.

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