|Protecting Your Rights: Serving Sand Lake, Spenard, and Turnagain|
|May 6, 2016
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
This Sunday, we honor and celebrate our mothers: Happy Mother’s Day to all of the wonderful mothers who, each day and every day, provide love and support to support their children and families.
Criminal Justice Reform: Let’s be Smart on Crime
This week, after weeks of hearings in both the House and Senate, the House approved the Criminal Justice Reform Bill, SB 91. A bipartisan group of Democrats and Republicans from across Alaska voted 28-11 to pass the bill. As I explained during the debate on the House floor, SB 91 is smart on crime: it protects public safety, holds offenders accountable, and reduces Alaska’s prison population.
The evidence reviewed by the Alaska’s Criminal Justice Commission and the legislature shows that we need to reform Alaska’s criminal justice system: Alaska’s prison population has grown by 27 percent—almost three times faster than the growth of our resident population, 2/3 of current prisoners return to jail within 3 years, and over 25% of the prison population are individuals in pre-trial status who have not been convicted of a crime. Our prison costs will continue to increase without reform, including the potential cost of a new prison at $240 million or more.
The reform bill maintains Alaska’s tough standards on violent crime, including longer mandatory minimum sentences for first degree murder and second degree murder as well as probation and parole restrictions on sex offenders. The bill also establishes a pre-trial services unit in the Department of Corrections that will supervise an improved pre-trial policy that should improve outcomes for young, non-violent, first-time offenders.
After the House approved SB 91, one representative who voted against the bill moved for reconsideration. The House will likely consider this request for reconsideration early next week, and then the bill should return to the Senate for their consideration.
As I explained in my closing statement on the House floor (you can watch the video here, starting at 5:05:46), the journey to justice is long, and passage of Criminal Justice Reform is an important investment in Alaska’s future.
House Bill 156
After three failed attempts, yesterday, the House reconsidered House Bill 156 for the fourth time and voted 21-18 to pass the bill. The original subject of HB 156 was local control of educational policy and testing as well as eliminating the requirement that Alaska schools spend at least 70% of their funding on teaching our students. In a divided vote, the House approved the bill and sent it to the Senate for consideration.
Meanwhile, the Senate had earlier approved SB 89, which permitted parental review of school curriculum and testing, required parents to “opt in” for their children to attend sex education classes in high school, banned certain individuals from teaching sex education classes if they were affiliated with Planned Parenthood and other women’s health service providers. SB 89 died in the House Health and Social Services committee.
In response, the Senate then amended HB 156 to incorporate parts of SB 89 that would require school boards to review sex education curriculum and approve each individual who provided instruction on sex education, including peer instructors. When asked to approve the Senate-amended version of HB 156, including parts of SB 89, the House declined to approved the amended version of the bill by a 1-vote margin. I voted against HB 156. A House-Senate Conference Committee then met to review the differences between the House and the Senate. The conference committee voted return the amended bill—unchanged—to both chambers for further consideration.
On Tuesday, the League of Women Voters of Alaska weighed in on HB 156. Their letter stated that they oppose the bill because the provisions that require school board approval for both sex education instructors and curriculum will have negative impacts throughout Alaska, particularly in rural Alaska where rates of sexually-transmitted diseases are high.
On Wednesday, the House considered Senate-amended HB 156 for the third time. Once again, it failed to pass the House by a razor-thin 1-vote margin. I continued to vote against this bill. On Thursday, however, a representative asked for reconsideration. With one representative changing his vote, the House approved Senate-amended HB 156 passed.
Alaska’s rates of sexually-transmitted diseases, sexual abuse, and teen pregnancy are staggering. We must protect students’ access to important and accurate sexual health education. The safety of our children is a constant priority, and we must make sure they have the tools to be safe and make educated decisions about their own health. If you agree that HB 156 is not what’s best for Alaska, as I believe, I encourage you to contact Governor Walker and urge him to veto this divisive legislation.
Community Events and Opportunities
As the session continues on, please feel free to contact me with any suggestions or concerns.
Rep. Matt Claman
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