JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska House refused to accept sweeping legislation aimed at cracking down on crime and passed by the Senate Tuesday, setting the stage for negotiations on the contentious topic with an adjournment deadline looming.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted 19-0 to pass the bill, a rewrite of a crime package that previously passed the House. The measure was sent back to the House, which had to decide whether to accept the Senate version.
It did not.
While some House members cast the Senate version as a response to public outcry over crime and a further step toward rolling back a 2016 criminal justice overhaul, others said they wanted to understand what was in the bill and not rush action on it.
Republican Rep. Chuck Kopp, a member of leadership in the House majority coalition, said the Senate added or changed a large portion of the bill. “Rubber-stamping changes of this magnitude is irresponsible,” he said.
Kopp, a former police officer, said the vote did not represent rejection of the Senate’s changes but a need for due diligence in an effort to come up with the best bill possible.
Department of Law spokeswoman Cori Mills by email said the bill as it passed the Senate would repeal the “most troubling” aspects of the 2016 overhaul, including presumptions for release on bail, while additionally increasing sentences for certain sex offenses, among other things.
Mills said the bill would give law enforcement, prosecutors and judges tools “to make decisions that will best protect the safety of the community.”
An administration analysis said the bill would increase the number of inmates to a level that exceeds the Department of Corrections’ capacity. The analysis says if those projections are accurate, the department would need to reopen the shuttered Palmer Correctional Center.
During Senate debate, some supporters said the bill’s cost, estimated to be in the tens of millions, was worth it. But some lawmakers questioned if the bill would bring about change and cited challenges with recruiting law enforcement personnel and prosecutors and available treatment.
House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, who is married to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s communications director, told reporters after the vote that the House could have waited to take up concurrence on the bill if more time was needed to review it.
Two coalition members, Democratic Reps. Andy Josephson and Chris Tuck, joined with minority Republicans and GOP Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, who is without a caucus, in voting to accept the Senate rewrite.
Crime has been a major issue this legislative session. The House’s decision sets the stage for a conference committee, with the constitutional session limit looming on Wednesday. The constitution does permit an extension of 10 days. A special session also could be called.
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon said adjourning by Wednesday would be problematic though not impossible. Other issues besides the crime bill include reaching agreement on state spending plans and the size of dividend to pay residents this year from Alaska’s oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund.
Dunleavy, a Republican, has sought to take a hard line on crime and left open working on issues such as addressing recidivism and substance abuse later.
A statement on Dunleavy’s Twitter account blasted House members who sided against the Senate version of the crime bill as voting “to take it easy on criminals & ignore safety of law abiding citizens. UNBELIEVABLE!”
Kopp said he voted for Dunleavy and isn’t intentionally trying to butt heads with him.
“But one thing I will never do is, I won’t be bullied and I won’t roll over, and I’m going to stand up for good democracy and good representative government,” he told reporters.