A bill that applies a uniform code of military justice to the Alaska National Guard will not pass the Legislature this year.
The legislation is a project of the House Judiciary committee. At a hearing on Tuesday, Chair Gabrielle LeDoux said that the bill will not make it to the floor before the Legislature gavels out. Her aide, Thomas Brown, explained that committee members will work with members of the administration on the issue during the interim.
“We will craft a better — I hesitate to say ‘perfect bill’ — but a better bill, so that this time next year we can send the governor something that all parties involved can be content with,” said Brown.
Various versions of a military code bill were introduced in the beginning of session, in response to a federal report documenting misconduct in the Alaska National Guard.
The bill under consideration would allow for courts martial and would give the Alaska National Guard the ability to hand down dishonorable discharges.
Lt. Forrest Dunbar, a judge advocate officer working on the bill on behalf of the Walker administration, explained to the committee that clearly defined criminal activity perpetrated by Guardsmen — like sexual assault or theft — would still be referred to civilian law enforcement. But he said there are instances where the code of military justice is more stringent than the civil code, and it would allow discipline within the Guard for some of the activities described in the federal report.
“There was some behavior by Guardsmen that involved sexual relations with recruits. And the civilian authorities, for a variety of reasons, decided not to prosecute. For example, perhaps there wasn’t enough evidence, or it didn’t tightly fit the definition of sexual assault,” said Dunbar. “But there are military offenses that are broad enough where we could potentially pursue some of those offenders for things like dereliction of duty, conduct unbecoming of an officer.”
Dunbar added that the bill is expected to bring more order to the Alaska National Guard. But he said he could not definitively answer the most common question about the code.
“‘Had this leg of the stool been present prior to the activities that led to the scandal, could we have avoided those activities in that scandal?’ And the answer is: We’re not sure — there’s no way to know,” said Dunbar. “I think it would have increased the likelihood that we would have been able to bring good order and discipline to those units more quickly.”
A special investigator appointed by Gov. Bill Walker is expected to release a public report on the National Guard scandal next month.