FAIRBANKS — The House continued work on the criminal justice reform bill on Tuesday afternoon, approving a handful of changes and rejecting many more.
The House passed amendments to Senate Bill 91 — one of the few still-alive bills as the session goes into its third extra week — to protect employees who come forward to report sexual assault and make sure the felony theft thresholds stay up to date among others.
The amendments are part of a marathon session with well more than 30 proposed amendments to an already sweeping overhaul of the state’s criminal justice system. The underlying bill, sponsored by North Pole Republican Sen. John Coghill, aims at reducing the costly prison population by reforming sentencing and providing better opportunities to keep offenders from committing new crimes.
The bill has been a target of plenty of legislators’ attempts to shoehorn their own pieces of legislation in and it’s already carrying at least one bill that was added during the Monday floor session.
Tuesday’s work through the amendments, which was still going as of press time, focused more on specific policy changes to the bill but a handful also continued the add-on process seen the day before.
One amendment added parts of Rep. Chris Tuck’s House Bill 60 to the crime bill. It offers protection to employees who report a sexual assault.
Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, said the measure was similar to the one in the update to the Alaska National Guard military code of justice to address sexual assault that recently came to light.
“If this is the kind of thing that we want to provide protections for the men and women in our national guard the same protections should be there for the people working in other work in the community,” he said. “They shouldn’t be at fear they’d lose their job.”
Another measure that was also added to the bill would add red stripes to licenses for people with restrictions on alcohol consumption due to probation or parole.
One of the amendments approved Tuesday night links the felony theft threshold, which the bill proposes to raise to $1,000, to inflation. The felony theft threshold has been a long-running issue in the Legislature because it hadn’t been updated in decades, causing more and more things to fall under a more serious penalty.
Legislators like Coghill have sought to update the threshold so it’s more in-line with inflation, but have been opposed by big-box retailers. Coghill successfully shepherded an increase to the limit in 2014 to $750. That year the House, under pressure from retailers, nixed the inflation proofing.
It was still a contentious issue on the floor Tuesday.
Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, supported adding inflation proofing.
“I think we all agree that a crime should be prosecuted based on what happened. ... You should never punish someone for inflation,” he said, offering an example of someone stealing a grill being a misdemeanor one year but a felony the next. “Over time it becomes a felony just because of inflation. That’s not how you treat people and that’s not you treat the same crime.”
Opponents of the change said the Legislature should reserve the right to adjust it as they see fit and others argued that adding inflation proofing in the budget could be a slippery slope.
The amendment initially failed but passed under reconsideration 20-17.
Another amendment also increased the financial penalty for serious thefts from $10,000 to $25,000.
The House still had a handful of amendments to work through as of press time Tuesday night. They are likely to finish final debate and take up a vote on the bill today.
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter: