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Politics

Governor proposes new Alaska anti-crime legislation as election nears

  • Author: Annie Zak
  • Updated: October 1, 2018
  • Published October 1, 2018

Gov. Bill Walker's administration on Monday unveiled several new pieces of public-safety legislation, much of it aimed at closing loopholes related to sex crimes and strengthening penalties for drug traffickers.

Walker rolled out the proposals at a news conference along with heads of other agencies as part of his administration's ongoing "public safety action plan."

"These are just the announcements of the legislation we intend to seek this next session," Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said at the press conference.

Among the proposals: require that people who are registered sex offenders in other states also register as sex offenders in Alaska if they move here; increase penalties against adults who commit sex offenses against victims ages 13 to 15; make sending unsolicited sexual images a crime; and make causing unwanted contact with semen a sex offense.

That last one was spurred on by a recent case in which an Anchorage man pleaded guilty to a count of second-degree assault. He had been charged with choking a woman until she became unconscious and then masturbating on her.

The man, Justin Schneider, got a no-jail sentence, shocking Alaskans and people around the country.

"That's currently a loophole in today's law," Lindemuth said.

For drug crimes, the proposed legislation calls for increased sentences for trafficking large quantities of drugs, and increased penalties for drug possession in order to create incentives for drug users to seek treatment.

"The bottom line is that our crime rate is unacceptable," said Lindemuth. "It has been on the rise since 2014. There are many causes to crime, but the increase in our crime rate is strongly correlated to our opioid epidemic."

Alaska's crime rate went up 6 percent in 2017 from the previous year, and crime has been a major focus in the governor's race.

Walker, an independent, is running for re-election this year against Democrat Mark Begich and Republican Mike Dunleavy.

Monday's quarterly update to the Walker administration's public safety action plan came a little more than a month before the Nov. 6 election.

"We've been addressing public safety since we came into office and we don't stop those duties because there is a campaign ongoing," Walker said in response to a question from a reporter about why the press conference wouldn't be considered a campaign event.

"We don't stand that down and say, 'We're not going to address public safety because it's an election cycle,'" he said. "We just don't."

The administration also wants to give Village Public Safety Officers a 7.5 percent pay increase to help with recruitment and retention.

The public safety action plan was first released about a year ago. The administration updates it periodically as new efforts are completed and added.

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