MAY 6, 2016
Representing District 17:
Midtown, University, and East Anchorage
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Juneau, AK 99801
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The Budget, SB91 and a Zombie in the Legislature
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Rep. Josephson looking over his notes on SB91 before floor session
Today marks the 109th day of the second session of the 29th Legislature and we are still here in Juneau. There are three major issues in front of the legislature that are keeping us from adjourning. One of those issues, the Criminal Omnibus legislation, was passed from the House. It awaits a vote on “reconsideration” next week. It will likely pass on reconsideration and be returned back to the Senate where they will vote on concurrence (in other words, they will decide whether they like the House’s changes to the original bill). I will cover this topic more in a subsequent section, so be sure to read below.
The budget and HB247, the rewrite of Alaska’s oil and gas tax credit system, go hand-in-hand and it would be surprising if there was any real movement made on the budget until the oil and gas tax credits are addressed. Last week Representative Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka), Representative Spohnholz (D-Anchorage), and I wrote an editorial piece that was featured in the ADN talking about why the oil and gas credit issue is so essential to crafting a truly comprehensive budget solution to address our massive deficit. You can read that piece here. There are many sides to this issue here in Juneau and so far no plans have found the support needed to pass the House. The constitutional deadline for the end of session is fast approaching and unless we start to get some consensus on the oil and gas tax credits soon I would expect a special session to be called to further address the issue.
SB91: The Omnibus Criminal Bill
As I mentioned previously, the House passed SB91 by a vote of 28-11 yesterday. I was one of the 11 ‘No’ votes. Let me explain why I have such reservations about SB91 and why I ultimately voted no.
While many progressives support “criminal justice reform” principles, I found that this bill went way too far. I approach my job as a legislator as first being a protector: a protector of education; a protector of the environment; a protector of innocent, blameless people; a protector of civil rights; and a protector of the most vulnerable.
Senate Bill 91 is, in my view, mostly bad legislation. To offer a complete list of my concerns would take a long time. Here is a small sampling:
1) The bill creates 9 new way for felons to get out of prison much, much faster—even, in some circumstances, where they are violent felons. When pressed, the sponsors did not deny that this was so!
2) The bill reduces some domestic violence crimes. While the sponsors declared that domestic violence crimes and violent felonies would not be treated any differently than under current law, they are wrong.
3) The bill strips away the right of our Anchorage Assembly to create its own criminal code.
4) The bill reduces small petty theft crimes to nothingness.
5) For the first time ever, defendants who have shot police officers are eligible for discretionary parole. So are low level sex offenders. So are persons who make methamphetamine around children.
6) The bill lightens our historic approach to being tough on DWI. Some of the DWI reforms I approve of, but still I see a slackening in the overall manner in which DWI defendants are treated.
7) The bill makes sentencing someone to more than 30 days for an “A” misdemeanor very, very difficult. Note that “A” misdemeanors are supposed to be for periods up to 365 days.
I fought harder against this bill than any other member of the entire Alaska Legislature. I offered 15 amendments to correct it. While many progressive-leaning people I am usually aligned with on policy questions will be surprised by my view on this bill, I believe if I walked them through the bill and my concerns with it, they would understand why I took the position that I did. Ultimately, my “No” vote was not a close question.
HB156: The Zombie Bill
I am sure many of you were pleased to read in the news earlier this week that the controversial bill that would effectively restrict the teaching of sex education in public schools had been voted down for the third time. HB156 was sponsored by Rep. Keller (R-Wasilla) and it would put a “pause” on statewide assessments until the state had time to create a better test than the failed AMP. That part of the bill, in and of itself, was contentious because it could put $90 million of Federal funding in jeopardy since they generally require some sort of assessment to make sure the funds are being used effectively. However, the bill still made its way through the House.
When the bill was in the Senate, Sen. Dunleavy (R-Wasilla) added his new legislation in order to make it more difficult for organizations like Planned Parenthood to come into public school and teach about sexual education. When the bill came back to the House for concurrence it was voted down and conference committees were appointed. When the conference committee came back with the bill exactly the same as it was before it was again voted down by the House. Then after the long debate on SB91 yesterday, HB156 rose again from the dead and this time passed because of pressure being put on some members of the majority by their fellow caucus member (bill sponsor, Wes Keller (R-Wasilla). The bill now goes to the Governor where we hope it will be vetoed. Alaska already suffers from unreasonably high rates of STI’s (especially Chlaymdia), teen pregnancy, and sexual abuse. Legislation like HB156 does nothing to address this issue—quite the contrary. It only make our problems worse through ignorance.
As always, please call or email with any thoughts, ideas, or concerns.
I Answer to You!
Representative Andy Josephson
State Capitol Bldg., Room 430