Crime bill passes, Senate adjourns, House Democrats come unglued



Senate Bill 54, the reform of an earlier criminal justice reform bill (SB 91), has been on a dizzying journey this year. It has passed the Senate, then the House, and the House changes were approved by the Senate on a concurrence vote this afternoon.

It’s tougher on crime. All it now needs is the governor’s signature, and a dozen crimes immediately will get stiffer penalties — offenses such as child sexual assault and theft will no longer receive a legal get-out-of-jail-free card.

Here’s the main timeline for the long and winding road of SB 54:

APRIL 7: The Senate passed SB 54. It was read across to the House, where Speaker Bryce Edgmon referred it to three committee. It never received a hearing by Democrats who control the House prior to adjournment.

MAY-OCTOBER: A crime wave overwhelmed Alaskans. A large number of Alaskans on the road system were impacted by property crime, whether they were robbed, stolen from, or had to invest in security cameras and self-defense technologies.

OCT. 23: The Legislature was called into Special Session by the governor so the House would have to deal with SB 54. Both bodies were to consider the governor’s payroll tax proposal.

NOV. 7: At 1 am, the House passed SB 54, on a vote of 32-8. It had some stiffer penalties than the Senate version. All House Democrats voted in favor of it except Rep. Sam Kito III of Juneau and Rep. David Guttenberg of Fairbanks. Republican Reps. David Eastman, DeLena Johnson, Mark Neuman, George Rauscher, Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, and Cathy Tilton opposed it because it was not strong enough.

NOV. 7: At 1:01 am, minutes after House passage of SB 54, Gov. Bill Walker issued a statement from China that he wanted to sign the bill as offered to the Senate. He recommended the Senate concur with the House.

NOV. 7: House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat, issued a statement lauding the passage of SB 54, and then boarded an airplane in Juneau and was off to Hawaii.

NOV. 8: The Legislative Affairs Agency’s lead attorney Doug Gardner issued a memo saying it believed some of SB 54 may be problematic because some B and C class felonies may receive the same punishment: “The issue raises a substantive due process concern,” he wrote.

NOV. 10: In the late afternoon, the Senate concurred with SB 54 as amended by the House and sent it to the governor for his signature. The Senate adjourned sine die.

NOV. 10: Speaker Bryce Edgmon posted a strong objection to the Senate passing SB 54, on Facebook and in a press release, calling it “an abdication of their responsibilities. They allowed a constitutionally flawed bill to be sent to the Governor and they worsened the ongoing recession and fiscal crisis by refusing to even consider a new revenue proposal. We can force the Senate back to Juneau but apparently we, and the Governor, can’t actually make them work.”

This “constitutionally flawed bill” was the same one Edgmon’s House majority passed just four days earlier and sent over to the Senate. It had been ramrodded through the House Judiciary committee by its chair, Matt Claman, who discouraged debate and amendments.

House Minority Leader Charisse Millett issued a statement praising passage of the bill: “Thanks are in order for the Senate which adopted changes made by the House to strengthen Senate Bill 54, and address loopholes within SB 91. These changes are a clear reflection of what Alaskans have expressed over the past year. Active community members and dedicated public servants within law enforcement and criminal justice shaped the updated version of SB54.

“I would also like to thank members of the House Republican caucus who offered many thoughtful amendments to the bill. While not every amendment received enough support to pass, just the opportunity to debate and discuss them was an opportunity to shine light on these issues. Making justice improvements that put public safety and victims’ rights at the forefront are an ongoing process that House Republicans are committed to pursuing.”

NOV. 10: The House Majority posted its own scathing criticism of the Senate concurrence, saying “With a vote earlier today, the Alaska State Senate jeopardized the stiffer criminal penalties included in Senate Bill 54 to respond to the recent spike in crime in Alaska. By refusing to fix constitutional problems with the bill through a conference committee, the Senate has guaranteed the bill will be litigated, which would leave in place the lenient sentencing guidelines included in last year’s omnibus criminal justice reform bill,” (SB 91, the bill that the Democrats all voted for in 2016.)

NOV. 10: Democrat Rep. Matt Claman, an attorney from Anchorage, blasted the Senate for voting for the bill: “One amendment making changes to the sentencing range for first-time class C felonies will probably result in a legal challenge that could void all or some of the changes for stiffer penalties that are included in Senate Bill 54 to address crime in Alaska. By not addressing these changes demanded by Alaskans, the Senate is essentially turning back the clock on our efforts to clean up Senate Bill 91,” said House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Matt Claman.

Claman had been a yes vote on SB 54 just three days prior.

“I am surprised that the Senate concurred with a bill that has constitutional issues that we only learned about after the bill passed the full House of Representatives. Their decision undermines all the good work both bodies have done to move forward with justice reform and improve public safety.” – Rep. Matt Claman

NOV. 10: Gov. Bill Walker strongly objected to the Senate passing SB 54, writing: “Senate Bill 54 gives meaningful tools back to law enforcement and judges to help keep Alaskans safe. However, our work on criminal justice is not yet over, and SB 54 as amended contains some issues that must be further addressed by the Legislature. My administration remains committed to working with the House and Senate to listen to concerns regarding public safety, and ensuring that Alaskans can feel safe in their homes and communities.

NOV. 10: The ACLU of Anchorage, after having prank-complimented its nemesis Rep. Lora Reinbold for standing up for SB 54, now threatened a lawsuit over her amendment.

Just a week ago, the ACLU posted on Facebook:

But on Nov. 10, the ACLU blasted Reinbold. The ACLU promised a lawsuit would be forthcoming. Against whom was unclear.


The Senate appears to have done just what the House Democrats and Gov. Bill Walker wanted by concurring with the bill as pre-approved by Walker.

Yet at the same time, House Majority Democrats tonight could not adjourn sine die (with finality) because they had already adjourned for the day and so many of their majority members had made a dash for the airport.

Among the missing were Majority Leader Chris Tuck, who is believed to be in Hawaii, and Reps. Louise Stutes, Matt Claman, Ivy Spohnholz, Jason Grenn, Zach Fansler, and Dean Westlake. They were nowhere to be found in Juneau.

Speaker Edgmon this afternoon was trying to line up enough from the Republican side so the House could adjourn, while Rep. Mike Chenault, the former Speaker, went on Facebook to scold the amateurish behavior of the Majority:

“The Senate has concurred with the House version of Senate Bill 54, the crime bill. However, the House has adjourned until Monday. Why? Too many members are missing this weekend, especially within the House Majority. This is a special session folks, I expect the House to act prudently and immediately after the Senate concurred and not wait a full weekend before adjourning. The only action needed to be taken by the House is to adjourn sine die. The employment tax proposed by the Governor is not going to be addressed.

“We could have stayed in session today or met after the Senate met and completed the work of this special session. But we’re going to wait until Monday — a whole weekend of sitting around doing nothing. This isn’t and shouldn’t be acceptable. I fully understand the public’s frustration with us being in special session dragging our heels.” – Rep. Mike Chenault

Attendance problems aside, word from insiders is that Speaker Edgmon plans to leave Juneau on Monday night with no expectation of return. He’s left instructions for the House to continue with technical sessions (gavel in, gavel out) until next Friday, the last day of special session.



  1. Let me get this straight….the House is upset the Senate approved SB54 the way the House sent it over, and now the House is upset the Senate approved it without changes so it could go to conference committee? Am I missing something or is this a House ploy to stay and collect more per diem……oh wait, they are gonna do that with thier technical sessions until Friday as opposed to adjourning.

  2. Once again, the D’s tried to ram a tax through and it died on arrival. Maybe someday soon they will acknowledge their futility. If they want taxes so badly – the Dividend must be ended or reformed into a legitimate government purpose. Income redistribution is not one of them. A rational fiscal plan using a sustainable draw from the PF Earnings can then be formed which will ensure any future tax rates are low or non-existent. Public spending will then be weighed against tax rates at the ballot box – as it should be.

    • Ending the Dividend will require the D’s and the R’s to jump into the water together. This is the root of dysfunction in our Legislature. A spoon full of sugar will be the last Dividend will be $3000 – enough to buffer/sweeten the impact to those with low incomes. Then, whether we change the PF to a POMV model or not, the Legislature has the authority to draw from the Earnings Reserve at a sustainable rate. Under this scenario, the fiscal gap will be manageable and revenue increase options will be more easily debated.

  3. I really think you missrepresented this story. The house sent a flawed bill because they included Lora Rhienbold’s ammendment. They only realized this after they had sent it. The legislatures legal adviser reccomended revising it in senate committee. The senate majority ignored this so they could leave. So they sent a flawed bill that could cause the sought after reforms to be held up in court. So now the governor either has to veto the crime bill, whicj conviently makes him look weak on crime in election year.

  4. Inasmuch as the Department of Law has not advised the Governor to veto the bill, the alleged constitutional infirmities with SB 54 may not be as significant as suggested by such unbiased sources as the ACLU. Many in the media have been equating the ACLU’s views with an opinion from the Alaska Supreme Court. Hint: It does not work that way.

    The fact that a first time felony conviction could result in some jail time is not a constitutional problem. Judges will still apply the sentencing factors found in Title 12 in imposing sentences and are fairly good, in my experience, in explaining the reasons for the sentences they impose.

  5. Who are the ones that remained so they could further damage the budget and increase their own personal bank accounts. Putting it on the backs of the working people if AK that when hired to do a job they do it or get fired. Vote these slackers out.

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