4th Special Session of 30th Alaska State Legislature

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Alaska State Legislature, House District 31

From the Desk of Representative Seaton:

November 6, 2017

Greetings from Juneau on this the 14th day of the 4th special session.  The House Finance committee spent last week listening to testimony on SB 54,Crime and Sentencing.  The committee listened to invited testimony from multiple departments and state agencies, as well as 10 hours of public testimony.  We have been debating this bill on the floor all weekend, and the debate continues today with multiple amendments being offered.  In the next newsletter I will be able to tell you what the final version includes and whether the Senate accepted the House’s changes.  For now I can share what we learned in the House Finance Committee and what the research behind the bill shows.

As controversial as this bill and the previous SB 91 are, I think it’s important to remember the intent.  The intent of criminal justice reform is to reduce the recidivism rate which has averaged between 60% to 70% over the last 20 years.  Policy changes were based on proven data.  Reducing recidivism means reducing the number of repeat crimes, which reduces the number of victims.  Reducing the prison population by using beds for the worst offenders makes Alaska safer if the lesser offenders can be rehabilitated.  Our criminal justice system of the past several decades is not working, and it’s time to make smart changes.  This isn’t easy to do, and the results will not be instant.  We need to change the sentencing system so that the punishment more closely fits the crime.  If done correctly, Alaska will be safer, crime rates will drop, and offenders will not re-offend.  However, this will take resources at first, until the savings from holding fewer prisoners can be reinvested into treatment and rehabilitation programs that are needed in order for the program to succeed.

On an informative note, I thought you might enjoy this interview with a Princeton professor and our Alaska House Speaker Bryce Edgmon.

Tina and I enjoyed the First Friday art opening at the State Museum, entitled “Moving Mountains”, by Homer/Halibut Cove artist Annette Bellamy.   We were pleased to visit with Annette and her husband Marvin, as well as Diana Conway, from Halibut Cove and Homer residents Kathy Smith and Vikki Jo Kennedy.    

Finance Committee

The committee heard testimony from the sponsor of SB54; the Departments of Law, Corrections, and Public Safety; the Office of the Public Defender; the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission, the UAA Justice Center, and the Alcohol Safety Action Program.
Public testimony was heard last Saturday and Monday evening. I appreciate hearing from those of you that called in from the Kenai Peninsula.  136 Alaskans provided testimony with 60 callers supporting SB 54, 14 opposing the bill, and 46 supporting repeal of SB 91.  Of those that mentioned repeal, some callers voiced their concerns about the uptick in crime in their neighborhood without providing their position on the bill before the committee currently (SB 54), while others support SB 54 if SB 91 is not repealed.
On Thursday, 16 amendments were submitted and debated with 10 passing, 2 failed, and 4 withdrawn.  Some of the amendments were purely technical, while others improved the bill.  One amendment that I offered allows for a broader list of C felonies to be detained up to 48 hours prior to their pretrial release (not all offenders are released prior to trial; they are released based on their risk of reoffending or failure to appear).  My amendment ensures that C felony cases involving sex offenses or domestic violence are covered under this longer hold authority.  The bill passed out of committee Thursday and was debated on the Floor Saturday and Sunday, with debate and amendments continuing today.
Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about SB 91. The most common myths are that law enforcement officers are unable to make arrests or are required to issue citations; that shoplifting is decriminalized or a “slap on the wrist”; that there is no money for treatment attached to SB 91; and that the increase in crime that began years ago is the result of SB 91.
The facts are this:

  • Officers have always had the ability to use discretion to issue citations or arrest, and that did not change with SB 91;
  • First and second time theft under $250 is an arrestable crime (class B misdemeanor); possible jail time for petty theft is increasing under SB 54.
  • Vehicle theft is a class C felony. For a first-time offense, the sentence can be up to 18 months of felony supervision, with suspended time hanging over their head for violating good behavior, as well as fines and restitution to be paid. SB 54 increases the use of jail time for first time C felons;
  • SB 91 pretrial provisions do not go into effect until January 2018.  These provisions will improve pretrial performance because 1) offenders will be released based on their risk, not their ability to make bail, and 2) 60 officers are in training to begin supervising the pretrial population in January;
  • Crime rates started rising years prior to the passage of SB 91.  The violent crime rate has been rising for decades.  Crime and crime statistics are complicated, and it is difficult to pin an increase to any one specific cause.  We know some of the things that contribute to the rising crime trend.  Alaska is in the midst of an opioid epidemic and we are in the middle of a recession.  Both of these can push people to do things they would not consider under more stable circumstances.   Another factor is the lack of a state fiscal plan.  Without a complete fiscal plan we are not able to properly fund our law enforcement agencies (Law, Judiciary, Public Safety, Corrections).  These agencies currently do not have the stability they need to do their jobs.  As Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan noted, instability in the state budget process is interfering with their ability to recruit officers, so much so that they currently have 43 trooper positions that they are struggling to fill.
The finance committee heard public testimony and  debated amendments to SB54 before moving the bill out of committee.
Once SB 54 passes the House it will move to the Senate where they will vote on whether or not to accept the changes from the House.  If they do not accept the changes, then a conference committee will be formed that includes 3 members from each body.  The conference committee would need to come to agreement on the sections of the bill that are different between the Senate and the House and propose a compromise bill for both bodies to consider.
Today, the finance committee had planned to be hearing a presentation from the CEO of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation.  On Tuesday the committee was scheduled to hear from Pat Pitney, Director of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget.  These hearings will be delayed until after the House passes SB54.  Both hearings will be informative about the status of the permanent fund and our state fiscal situation.
The House is still waiting for the Senate to take action on HB 4001, the Governor’s self-employment and wage tax.  The senate finance committee has heard some testimony, but is not treating the bill as a priority.  Comments from Senate President Kelly show that the Senate is betting that increased oil production will save the day and that we do not need a broad-based tax.  Relying purely on the volatility of production and price of oil will keep us from diversifying our revenue and from growing our economy.  Oil revenue alone does not provide stability, but oil revenue combined with a reasonable annual draw from the Earnings Reserve Account within the permanent fund and a moderate broad-based tax does provide stability.
As I said in last week’s newsletter, HB 4001 is not my preferred choice for a revenue option because it only taxes some forms of income (wage and self-employment) and doesn’t tax others (capital gains, retirement, investment, unemployment), thus impacting Alaskans unequally.  The tax cap makes it regressive, and the proposed rate would not raise enough revenue to fill the gap and bring the state to a stable budget.  But the conversation over revenue needs to start someplace.


Public Testimony Opportunities

Due to the 24 Hr. Rule being in effect, please contact the Homer or Kenai LIOs noted below for more information.

Public testimony (when scheduled) can be given in person at your LIO or call (907) 465-4648 prior to the meeting for a phone option.  Written Comments are best addressed to the chair of the committee where the bill is being heard.  If you are interested in a public testimony meeting that is not listed above please call the Kenai LIO 283-2030 or Homer LIO 235-7878.  For a full list of all upcoming meetings, please visit the Alaska State Legislature’s webpage at

Following Bills & Committees
Access bills and committee schedules through the Legislature’s BASIS home page.  Get automatic alerts when a bill is scheduled for hearing or public testimony by signing up for “Track Bills in BTMF”.  Most committee hearings are broadcast on Gavel-to-Gavel at www.360north or through the Live Now tab on the BASIS home page. 
NEW!  "Chat with Legislative Information Staff
Monday-Friday between 8:30am and 4pm you will find a new chat interface in the lower right corner of The LIO staff can help answer questions about finding things on the website, answer questions relating to tracking legislation and help you get in touch with your legislator. Let us know how we can help you!
Legislative Information Offices (LIO) – Our Homer and Kenai LIOs are a great resource for tracking bills and participating in hearings.
Homer: Amber Corey 235-7878, 270 West Pioneer Avenue
Kenai: Mary Bea Byrne 283-2030, 145 Main St Loop, Suite 217
POMs Email is the preferred method of communication for our office.  POMS is currently operational but may experience a delay in reaching our office.  If needed, contact your local LIO office who can email us your comments.

Bits & Pieces

Wednesday the 8th: Ski & Winter Gear Swap 
Head over to the Homer High School commons between 5:30-8pm and barter, trade, sell or give away your winter ski gear. HHS Ski Team will be waxing skis as a fundraiser.
Friday the 10th: Empty Bowls Soup Luncheon  
Homer United Methodist Church hosts this fundraiser for the Homer Community Food Pantry, from 11am-2pm this Friday.  $10 for a bowl of soup and sides, $35 for a locally made, handcrafted pottery bowl (Limited number available). To-go orders are available, call after 10am. For more information call 399-5200, tickets on sale at the Homer bookstore and at the door.
Automatic Voter Registration Mailer Heading to Alaskans
This week 75,000 Alaska residents will receive timely information regarding their Permanent Fund Dividend Automatic Voter Registration. The State Division of Elections (DOE) is sending a mailing for either those who are being newly registered to vote or who are updating their mailing address. These notices are required as part of implementing a ballot measure approved by Alaska voters on November 8, 2016. The new law became effective on March 1, 2017. This means that PFD applications received in March only were processed and verified for voter registration purposes.
The new law requires the DOE to send a notice to affected individuals allowing them the opportunity to opt-out of the registration process. The notice will allow recipients 30 days to either decline voter registration or update their voter registration record.
The Youth Risk Behavior Survey
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services released its 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) results today.  The finding around teens’ opinions about prescription and illicit drug use are concerning.

Less than half of Alaska high school students report they think taking prescription drugs, including opioid pain medications, without a doctor’s prescription or using the medication differently than prescribed is a serious risk. Seven percent of high school students report use of prescription drugs, including opioids like Vicodin and OxyContin, without a doctor’s prescription or differently than prescribed during the past month. Nearly two percent of Alaska teens currently use heroin.

The YRBS survey results showed some positive behavior changes among Alaska teens, including decreases in cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, and sexual activity during the past decade. When comparing survey findings from 2007 and 2017, a greater percentage of high school students in 2017 feel that their teachers care about and encourage them.

The YRBS was developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is conducted every other year in most states. The survey is administered by the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS). It is anonymous, voluntary, and conducted with parental consent. Results are used to identify emerging health concerns and changes in behaviors over time, and to inform programs aimed at improving the health of Alaska teens.

For information on Vitamin D and Opioids, see my last week’s newsletter from October 30th.
The Alaska Board of Fisheries proposes to adopt, amend, or repeal regulation changes in Title 5 of the Alaska Administrative Code, dealing with fishery and aquatic plant resources.  Read the proposed changes here.  The first comment deadline is November 17: details on how and when to comment are available here.

Contact Us

If you would like to speak to me regarding a specific issue, it is helpful to first get in touch with the member of my staff handling related issues. 

Homer: May-December
270 W. Pioneer Ave., Homer AK 99603
907-235-2921 or 1-800-665-2689; Fax: 907-235-4008

Juneau: January-April
State Capitol – 120 4th St., Juneau, AK 99801
New location: Room 505
907-465-2689 or 1-800-665-2689; fax: 907-465-3472

Kenai: 907-283-9170 (will transfer automatically to Homer or Juneau)

Rep. Paul Seaton

Jenny Martin
Constituent issues and questions, General Capital & Operating Budget information,CAPSIS requests, Personal Legislation

Taneeka Hansen
Legislation & Sustainable Fiscal Plans in House Finance, Personal Legislation
Elizabeth Diament
Legislation & Sustainable Fiscal Plans in House Finance, Personal Legislation

Arnold Liebelt
Operating Budget, Finance Subcommittees

Rep. Paul Seaton

Thanks for signing up for my newsletter and engaging in the public process. I try every week to keep you abreast of issues and bills discussed at the committee level, where YOU have an opportunity to participate.


Newsletter Archives

October 30, 2017 Newsletter
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Dec 22 Transition Newsletter
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