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Alaska House passes bill to remove online court records when charges are dismissed

  • Author: Nathaniel Herz
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published April 8, 2015

JUNEAU -- The Alaska House on Wednesday easily passed a bill to revoke the public's access to online court records in cases in which charges have been dismissed or a defendant was found not guilty.

Last year, former Gov. Sean Parnell vetoed a broader bill that would have also made paper and microfilm records of those cases completely confidential. Parnell said last year's bill was unnecessarily broad and would have swept cases "under the cloak of confidentiality."

Rep. Tammy Wilson, R-North Pole, sponsored the new measure, House Bill 11, which preserves hard copies of court records but keeps them off an online state database called CourtView.

Wilson says she's heard from people who have missed out on job opportunities because of the availability of court records -- even ones from cases ending in not guilty verdicts. She said the majority of the criticism was based on easy Internet access to the records.

"Most of the complaints we heard were from CourtView," Wilson said in an interview after Wednesday's vote.

Wilson's bill got broad, bipartisan support in the House on Wednesday, passing 34-5.

In favor were Republican representatives Mike Chenault, Jim Colver, Lynn Gattis, Shelley Hughes, Craig Johnson, Wes Keller, Gabrielle LeDoux, Charisse Millett, Cathy Munoz, Mark Neuman, Kurt Olson, Lance Pruitt, Lora Reinbold, Dan Saddler, Paul Seaton, Louise Stutes, Dave Talerico, Steve Thompson, Cathy Tilton, and Wilson; Democrats Ben Nageak, Scott Kawasaki, Sam Kito III, Matt Claman, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, Max Gruenberg, Bob Herron, Bryce Edgmon, Neil Foster, Les Gara, Harriet Drummond, Adam Wool, and Chris Tuck; and independent Dan Ortiz.

Opposed were Democrats David Guttenberg, Andy Josephson and Geran Tarr, and Republicans Mike Hawker and Bob Lynn.

The margin was wider than the 23-16 House vote for last year's version of the bill. Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, who voted against last year's version, said he voted for Wilson's bill Wednesday because it was less comprehensive.

"I support the concept that someone who's been exonerated of a criminal offense has the right not to have their name posted on CourtView," Edgmon said.

Last year's bill faced sharp opposition from victims' advocates and journalists. The Alaska Association of Chiefs of Police wrote a letter objecting to an early version of Wilson's measure. But the group's director, Kalie Klaysmat, said Wednesday she couldn't speak to the updated version of the law that applied only to CourtView.

The director of the state's Office of Victims' Rights, Taylor Winston, didn't immediately respond to a message Wednesday. She opposed last year's version of the bill.

Wilson's bill now moves to the Senate, where Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, said it will be an open discussion. "The question is: Did they get it right?" Coghill said in an interview, referring to what he called the balance between privacy and public safety.

Coghill, who co-sponsored last year's version of the bill, said he thought Wilson's measure was reasonable by still preserving some access to information about the relevant criminal cases.