JUNEAU — A bill that lawmakers say would fix an oversight in state sexual assault laws that sparked protests and led voters to oust a judge is headed to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s desk.
The Alaska House of Representatives voted 32-1 on Thursday to approve House Bill 14, which was originally written to address the so-called “Schneider loophole." The bill has now been expanded to prohibit pretrial electronic monitoring credits against prison sentences for all sex crimes.
The measure was approved 20-0 in the Alaska Senate on Wednesday.
If signed into law, the bill changes the definition of “sexual contact” in state law to include “knowingly causing the victim to come into contact with semen.” It makes strangling someone unconscious a first-degree assault, allows more serious punishments for other crimes in which strangulation is involved and alters the way the state grants prison credit for time spent on electronic monitoring.
Under existing law, someone convicted of a crime may receive credit for time served on electronic monitoring before trial. HB 14 changes that law so someone convicted of a sex crime may not receive such credit. (They still may receive credit for time served if they were imprisoned before trial.) HB 14 also states that someone convicted of a crime against a person, domestic violence, burglary or arson can receive credit for electronic monitoring time only if they “participated in a residential treatment program ... while under electronic monitoring.”
Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, referred to that latter clause as a “dangerous little hitchhiker” that could greatly increase state prison populations, then voted for the bill.
The drive for the legislation was inspired by a 2017 case in which former air traffic controller Justin Schneider choked a woman and ejaculated on her unconscious body. Schneider, who spent a year on electronic monitoring before taking a plea deal, received no additional jail sentence for his crime. A prosecutor referred to it as Schneider’s “one free pass,” a phrase that enraged many Alaskans. In November 2018 voters decided against retaining Judge Michael Corey, who approved the controversial plea agreement.
Several lawmakers proposed fixes to state criminal law at the start of this year’s legislative session. HB 14 was the work of Rep. John Lincoln, D-Kotzebue, but it was amended in the Senate with ideas from Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, who had his own legislation.
“This is an issue that Alaskans have been focused on, have been enraged about, for a couple years,” Micciche said Wednesday during a speech.
He acknowledged the victim, who remains anonymous.
Calling her a “superhero,” Micciche said, “She may not wear a cape, but in my mind, she should.”