SPEAKER EDGMON LEFT TOWN; KITO AND PARISH IN CHARGE
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon says the Alaska House Majority will hold technical sessions all week, until the end of the Special Session, allowing members to collect per diem through Nov. 21.
Technical sessions mean they gavel in, gavel out, and collect per diem. Ka-ching.
The Juneau delegation of Rep. Sam Kito III and Justin Parish will be the presiding officers, forcing the Senate to also hold technical sessions. The Senate adjourned sine die on Friday, but House Democrats have said they won’t go, even though Majority Leader Chris Tuck took off for Hawaii last Thursday and most members of the Democrat-led majority left town for the weekend. What fiscal crisis?
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon is trying to force the Senate to come back. He hopes by keeping the session alive, the Senate will address a poison pill his majority put into SB 54, the criminal justice reform bill. Constitutional questions were raised by the Legislature’s lead lawyer, Doug Gardner, after the bill passed both bodies. If the Senate was forced into conference committee on that bill, the House would try to force passage of Gov. Bill Walker’s income tax.
Senate President Pete Kelly was unmoved by the House’s antics, calling it a waste of state resources.
CONSTITUTIONAL QUESTIONS WERE RAISED OVER SB 91 — BUT GOVERNOR SIGNED IT
The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska has said it will sue over SB 54, because it may make presumptive sentence ranges the same for some Class C and Class B felonies. They cite this as a constitutional problem, although it has not been tested.
Anchorage talk show host and Anchorage Assembly member Amy Demboski calls that laughable and politically motivated. “It’s funny how no one cried about the constitutional problems in SB 91 as it relates to separation of powers. But when it benefits the criminals, they say it’s unconstitutional.”
Demboski is referring to a letter from the Department of Law to Gov. Bill Walker on June 17, 2016, in which the department stated that SB 91 had constitutional challenges:
“No other state in the country has a similar provision of law that adjusts the value threshold of property crimes for inflation. Criminal justice stakeholders will need to implement this change to avoid constitutional issues and provide adequate notice of the conduct that is prohibited. Larson v. State, 564 P.2d 365 (Alaska 1977). Without a clear way to determine what the thresholds actually are at any given time, a court may find that the law does not provide adequate notice of how a given form of conduct actually violates the law.”
The 2016 letter from the Law Department raised other constitutional questions about SB 91:
“Having the judicial branch adjust the property crime thresholds also may raise two separation of powers issues. First, the power to create and define criminal acts is vested in the legislature. The legislature retains the authority to delegate regulatory authority in appropriate circumstances. However, that delegation must be given to the executive branch.”
The Law Department said that having the Judicial Council perform adjustments to the inflation calculation is problematic because it is not part of the executive branch, but is an independent body. Other constitutional questions were raised.
But the ACLU of Alaska was silent on that, she noted during her Monday show on KVNT.
Demboski said the Legislature has some explaining to do: “This is what I am struck by: How can they vote for a bill, then three days later claim it is constitutionally flawed? That demonstrates either they didn’t know what they were doing when they passed it, or they knew it was unconstitutional and passed it anyway, which would demonstrate incompetence; neither of which gives Alaskans much confidence in their elected officials.”