Governor proposes new laws to fight crime

Published: Oct. 1, 2018 at 5:47 PM AKDT
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Almost two dozen items have been added to the governor’s public safety to-do list, including more substance-abuse treatment, a get-tough message to drug traffickers, and longer sentences and sex-crime offender registration for more offenses.

The 82-point list, revised from a year ago and showing legislative successes on some of its older points, was presented at a news conference Monday by Walker and key administration officials. The list contains a road map for Walker’s administration — or the next one — to present bills and budget items to the Legislature in 2019.

With Walker’s two main rivals holding public safety forums last week, the press conference Monday had a bit of a feel of a campaign event. But Walker rejected that notion.

“We’ve been addressing public safety since we came into office and we don’t stop those duties because there is a campaign ongoing,” Walker said in response to a question. “Those standing here, those in this room, it’s a very very high priority, so we don’t stand that down and say we’re not going to address public safety because it’s an election cycle.”

Walker’s attorney general, Jahna Lindemuth, rejected the idea of some legislators and one of his opponents that the 2016 criminal justice reform in Senate Bill 91 was to blame for rising crime.

“Our crime rate is unacceptable — it has been on the rise since 2014,” Lindemuth said. “There are many causes to crime, but the increase in our crime rate is strongly correlated to our opioid epidemic. There’s no doubt that the drug epidemic — and it’s both the opioids and meth now — is fueling crime, especially vehicle and property theft."

While Senate Bill 91 was supposed to reduce prison population and save the state money, Walker conceded that the “crime wave” could lead to a reversal and result in more incarceration. He said the state may once again have to send inmates out of state to private prisons.

Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan sounded a tough note at the news conference, commenting a proposal of new penalties for traffickers in “large quantities” of heroin, cocaine and other addictive substances. For heroin, a large quantity mean anything greater than 25 grams — not quite an ounce.

“Traffickers should be on notice that we are serious about this, and we will find you,” Monegan said.

The state’s commissioner of military and veteran affairs, Maj. Gen. Laurie Hummel, had a piece of the list too — strengthening the Alaska State Defense Force, generally an unpaid, rural supplement to the Alaska National Guard, to help prevent village violence and suicide.

But mainly the state is proposing new laws or law revisions to the Legislature to “close loopholes” or toughen existing criminal law.

The Public Safety Action Plan would make unwanted contact with semen a sex offense, reducing the possibility that the recent no-jail sentence of Justin Schneider would happen again. Schneider pleaded guilty to a single charge of second degree assault for choking a woman unconscious and then masturbating on her.

If a person has sex with a minor who is more than six years his or her junior, the crime becomes a sex offense, not just statutory rape, with a requirement that the perpetrator register as a sex offender. Prison time would change from a maximum of five years to a maximum of 99 years.

The plan also would force a person to register as a sex offender in Alaska if required by another jurisdiction. Currently, an offender has to register in Alaska if the crime elsewhere would be a crime here, leading to long arguments about the elements of a crime, Lindemuth said. The new law would remove those arguments, she said.

A new law would also make it a sex crime to make a video in a locker room or bathroom using a hidden camera.

The plan is designed to make public schools safer by setting up a hotline for anyone to anonymously report a danger, crisis or some other problem. It also changes the crime of “terroristic threatening” which, under some circumstances, is only a crime now if a threat is fake, not real.

The plan also includes a proposal to fight elder fraud and abuse by proposing legislation to allow the state’s Adult Protective Services to “ensure those abusing elders are not able to hold positions of trust that allow them to abuse or defraud other vulnerable adults or children.”