Alaska House refuses to concur on crime bill

    The Alaska State Capitol in downtown Juneau.

    Juneau, Alaska (AP) - The Alaska House has refused to accept sweeping legislation aimed at cracking down on crime passed by the Senate, with members saying more time is needed to understand the bill. It failed on a 22-18 tally.

    On Tuesday, the Senate voted 19-0 to pass the bill. It was then sent back to the House, which had to decide whether to accept the Senate version.

    Some House members cast the Senate version as a response to public outcry over crime and a further step toward rolling back a 2016 criminal justice overhaul. Others said they wanted to understand what was in the bill and not rush through a package.

    Crime has been a major issue this legislative session. The House's decision sets the stage for a conference committee with an adjournment deadline looming.

    During debate Tuesday, some supporters said the bill's cost, estimated to be in the tens of millions, was worth it.

    But some lawmakers questioned if the bill would bring about change and cited challenges with recruiting law enforcement personnel and prosecutors and available treatment. Still, the final vote was 19-0.

    The measure goes back to the House, which must decide whether to accept the Senate's version with an adjournment deadline looming.

    Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy has sought to take a hard line on crime and left open working on issues such as addressing recidivism and substance abuse later. He said on Twitter that he looked to the House to agree with the Senate.

    “The entire Senate -- Democrats and Republicans -- voted to approve a public safety package to protect Alaskans,” said Gov. Dunleavy. “This is a big step towards giving law enforcement, prosecutors and judges the tools they need to keep criminals behind bars. Crime has impacted nearly every Alaskan, which is why this issue continues to be a top priority and focus for my administration. We now look to the House to join the Senate in repealing SB 91 and responding to the public’s demand to improve public safety.”

    Department of Law spokeswoman Cori Mills by email said the bill as it passed the Senate repeals the "most troubling" aspects of a 2016 criminal justice overhaul, including presumptions for release on bail, while additionally increasing sentences for certain sex offenses, among other things.

    Mills said the bill would give law enforcement, prosecutors and judges tools "to make decisions that will best protect the safety of the community."

    An administration analysis said the bill would increase the number of inmates to a level that exceeds the Department of Corrections' capacity. The analysis says if those projections are accurate, the department would need to reopen the shuttered Palmer Correctional Center.

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