Lawmakers announce crime bill deal as special session opens

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — House and Senate negotiators announced agreement on sweeping crime legislation Thursday, the first day of a special session called by Gov. Mike Dunleavy to resolve major issues left unfinished during the just-ended regular session.

The negotiated crime agreement could come up for a House vote as early as Monday. The crime package is seen as a further rollback of a 2016 criminal justice overhaul that could swell the state prison population and lead to the re-opening of a shuttered prison. It additionally is intended to increase sentences for certain sex offenses.

“We want to show our commitment to acting decisively on the bill,” House Speaker Bryce Edgmon said. He added that while the overall issue is complicated, the bill’s components have been roundly vetted.

Senate President Cathy Giessel, a Republican, said she wants to ensure her members have sufficient time to read and understand the measure. She anticipated a final Senate vote after Memorial Day.

Dunleavy and lawmakers have sought to show they are tough on crime in response to public outcry.

Republican Rep. Chuck Kopp, one of the negotiators, said the costs associated with this effort will be significant. He cited costs tied to reopening the prison, the likelihood of having to send prisoners out of state and the potential for having to build a new prison in the future, which he said he hoped could be avoided.

Kopp, a former police officer, said the public was “rightly outraged by poor execution” with some parts of the overhaul that he said have been corrected.

“Every single one of us is tough on crime. There’s nobody in this building that wants to let offenders and repeat offenders go,” Kopp said. “We’ve accomplished that.”

But he and Rep. Matt Claman, an Anchorage Democrat and another negotiator, said there also needs to be a focus on rehabilitation and treatment.

Republican Sen. Shelley Hughes said she and other negotiators agreed to have an informal working group look at ways to reduce recidivism and make changes within the Department of Corrections to ensure that when an individual leaves the system they are in better shape or have an opportunity to be in better shape than when they entered. “That is step two of making Alaska a safer place,” she said.

Edgmon, an independent, said there was a possibility of tacking onto the capital budget additional treatment funds.