Alaska Senate adjourns session after passing crime bill

The Alaska Senate brushed off constitutional concerns and approved a crime bill Friday, but sidestepped taxes when ending the special legislative session.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska warned lawmakers that a provision of the crime bill, passed by the House this week, would make presumptive sentence ranges for first-time Class C and Class B felonies the same.

The group says this would violate due process requirements. The ACLU of Alaska says the concept of graduated offenses is to ensure more serious crimes are sentenced more harshly. Class C felonies are a lesser class of felony.

The organization warned of legal action if the provision is adopted.

The sentencing change was added to the bill as an amendment during floor debate prior the House voting on the bill in the wee hours of the morning Nov. 7. It wasn't known to be a problem until after the House passed it.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, called the Senate's actions "an abdication of their responsibilities."

"They allowed a constitutionally flawed bill to be sent to the governor and they worsened the ongoing recession and fiscal crisis by refusing to even consider a new revenue proposal," he said in a statement. "We can force the Senate back to Juneau but apparently we, and the governor, can't actually make them work."

The Senate showed little interest in and did not vote on the other issue on the agenda — a wage tax.

Gov. Bill Walker proposed the tax to help address a multibillion-dollar state budget deficit that has persisted amid low oil prices.

It was not immediately clear whether Walker would support the crime bill passed by the Legislature. Concerns with the bill were discussed during a Senate hearing hours before Friday's vote on the legislation.

Journal reporter Elwood Brehmer contributed to this story.

11/10/2017 - 5:32pm