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Alaska Legislature

To fight crime, Democratic lawmakers seek to close loopholes in state law

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: January 12
  • Published January 11

The snow-covered statue of William Seward is seen in front of the Alaska State Capitol on Friday. As lawmakers published their second collection of pre-filed bills, more than a foot of snow blanketed the capital city. (James Brooks / ADN)

JUNEAU — With Republican plans to repeal Alaska’s criminal justice reform project underway, Democrats in the Alaska House are offering an alternative: Taking things piece by piece.

On Friday, Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, filed a measure that seeks to eliminate the ability of married couples to use the existence of that marriage as a defense in certain cases of alleged rape or sexual assault.

“If you are disabled and in the care of your spouse, marriage would (currently) be a defense,” Claman said.

House Bill 33 seeks to remove that defense in order to prosecute cases where an incapacitated person is being taken advantage of by their spouse. It’s one of 50 bills and six constitutional amendment ideas formally filed by legislators before Tuesday, when the 31st Alaska Legislature convenes in Juneau. Several of the bills deal with individual loopholes and sections of Alaska’s criminal justice law.

Claman said he filed his bill with the support of Rep. John Lincoln, D-Kotzebue, who earlier this week filed a bill to eliminate the “Schneider loophole” identified when Anchorage Superior Court Judge Michael Corey sentenced former air-traffic controller Justin Scott Schneider to no additional time behind bars last year for strangling a woman and ejaculating on her unconscious body.

Both proposals have garnered the support of fellow lawmakers. Claman’s bill has the support of Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage; Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, filed a bill similar to Lincoln’s earlier this week.

Sitting in his Juneau office, surrounded by still-unpacked boxes, Lincoln said he believes there’s merit in the idea of attacking crime by addressing one problem at a time instead of attempting to put every fix into a single piece of legislation.

Taking the latter approach can result in a “Christmas tree," he said — every lawmaker hangs his or her own idea on the proposal, and it becomes difficult to understand.

“You could lose control of something right out of the gate, and this way has a better chance,” he said.

Before arriving in Juneau, he and Claman asked victim-rights organizations and women’s organizations which parts of the state’s criminal law frustrated them. House Bill 33 resulted from those talks, as did Lincoln’s bill.

Regardless of the strategy, Lincoln said one thing about the 31st Legislature is abundantly clear.

“We’re going to spend a lot of time talking about crime this session."

Other bills prefiled Friday:

Public safety

• Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla, has proposed a bill that would allow private companies to arrest Alaskans and make charges as police under powers currently granted only to municipal and state law enforcement agencies. If House Bill 25 becomes law, the Alaska Police Standards Council would be able to license private police agencies for work in Alaska. The bill is envisioned as a means to allow troopers to hire extra help when needed or to allow a corporation to hire police if needed, Sullivan-Leonard said. It was filed as House Bill 394 last year.

• If prosecutors aren’t willing to take a case, Senate Bill 15 by Micciche offers an alternative. If signed into law, SB 15 would allow Alaskans to order the state to convene a grand jury by petitioning the top judge in a state judicial district. If the judge agrees that an investigation is warranted — and the petitioner gets 500 signatures — the grand jury would convene. The bill also includes an unrelated proposal to change the state’s court rules, increasing the ability of a defendant to gather information from the prosecution. That rules change requires a two-thirds vote in the House and a two-thirds vote in the Senate.

• Claman is attempting to fix a loophole in the state’s prosecution of rape and sexual assault. House Bill 33 would remove marriage as a defense in cases where someone sexually assaults or rapes their incapacitated spouse. In those cases, the existence of the marriage has been used to justify consent for sex.

Transportation

• Under a proposal from Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, anyone hired to work on a construction project for the state would have to cover their sand, gravel or other raw materials as they are moved by truck. If House Bill 26 becomes law, anyone caught violating the law would not be paid by the state for that particular load.

Health

• Several flame-retardant chemicals would be banned in Alaska under House Bill 27, by Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage. HB 27 forbids the sale of products containing those chemicals, which have been linked to health problems.

• Health insurance coverage sold in Alaska would be required to provide “telehealth” benefits under House Bill 29, by Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage. Telehealth is delivered remotely, through the internet, telephone or other service, rather than in person.

Employment

• Alaska’s minimum wage would rise to $15 per hour under House Bill 28, by Tarr. The bill also requires the commissioner of the Department of Labor to publish an annual report on the fairness of pay practices in the state.

• If you die on the job without any dependents, your employer is not required to pay your family any compensation other than funeral benefits. House Bill 30, by Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, intends to change that. Inspired by the 2011 death of Abigail Caudle, HB 30 seeks to require employers to pay $120,000 if an employee is killed on the job but has no children or spouse. The money would go to the person’s parents or their estate. The bill also boosts the payment for permanent disability caused by work on the job.

Finance

• To boost the constitutionally protected portion of the Alaska Permanent Fund, Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, has proposed transferring $5.5 billion from the fund’s earnings reserve to the protected corpus. House Bill 31, if signed into law, would transfer the money and protect it from spending by the Legislature.

• Tribes, housing authorities and some tax-exempt organizations would be eligible for loans from the state’s energy efficiency fund if House Bill 32, by Kreiss-Tomkins, becomes law.

• Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, has proposed paying a supplemental Permanent Fund dividend this year, and Senate Bill 17 would appropriate $2.39 billion from the Alaska Permanent Fund to pay for that supplemental dividend.

Recreation

• Micciche is trying to save the Alaska State Fair’s ability to serve alcohol. In Senate Bill 16, Micciche proposes allowing the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to issue a “fair license,” a “concert permit,” and a “performing arts theater license” to appropriate businesses, allowing them to serve alcohol.

Constitutional amendments

• The move last year by the Legislature to set up a system of spending from the Alaska Permanent Fund would be enshrined in the Alaska Constitution if House Joint Resolution 3, by Tuck, is approved by lawmakers and by voters.

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