House Bill 126 – updating the Alaska Code of Military Justice – has passed the Legislature and is on its way to Governor Bill Walker’s desk.
The legislation aims to strengthen the Alaska National Guard’s ability to punish soldiers for offenses ranging from minor infractions to larger crimes.
Retired Colonel and Deputy commissioner of the state of Alaska Department of Military and Veteran’s Affairs Bob Doehl says the Guard lacked that authority under the old Alaska Code of Military Justice – which had not been updated since 1955.
“We had no means for administrative action less than seeking a discharge, and that created challenges because there may be some cases where discharge is appropriate, but ideally you catch conduct before it builds up to that point,” Doehl said.
The updated code would allow the National Guard to convene court martials – generally reserved for more severe offenses – and issue non-judicial punishments for lesser infractions.
Doehl says it gives the commander a wide set of options.
“You now have tools in terms of monetary fines or additional duty, or ever incarceration for very rare, but egregious example,” he said.
The statute also lays out an approved range of punishments for different infractions. That’s a layer of definition Doehl says has been missing.
“It was that lack of definition that frankly rendered the 1955 version unusable,” Doehl said. “And in 2012 when the National Guard Bureau came in and looked at the Alaska National Guard, this was another area they identified that changes were necessary.”
The push to update the code stems from a National Guard Bureau investigation into allegations of sexual assault and misconduct within the Alaska National Guard.
While the new Alaska Code of Military Justice adds enforcement mechanisms that the National Guard Bureau report says the Guard lacked, Doehl says putting the new code into practice will be the real test.
“And frankly, I would say we’ll know better after we test drive this thing for a year, but at this point, the DMVA and National Guard are very happy with how the bill developed,” Doehl said.
Next, HB126 will head to Governor Bill Walker’s desk for his signature. If he signs the statute into law, the Guard expects to begin implementing new regulations this summer.