On SB91, Anchorage officials want for reforms, not repeal

Anchorage Assembly members debate a resolution on SB91, October 10, 2017 (Photo: Zachariah Hughes – Alaska Public Media)

Amid growing criticism of the state’s new criminal justice laws, officials in Anchorage are asking lawmakers for reforms, not a full repeal.

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During its Tuesday night meeting, the Anchorage Assembly debated dueling measures concerning Senate Bill 91, the omnibus crime overhaul signed into law last summer. One of the non-binding resolutions asked lawmakers for specific improvements to rules that are on the books or set to go into effect soon.

The other resolution told lawmakers to scrap SB91 and start over from scratch, incorporating only a handful of tougher penalties for serious crimes laid out in the original bill. That effort was lead by conservative Assembly member Amy Demboski of Eagle River, who said SB91 is fundamentally flawed.

“Essentially what we’re doing is taking a pile of mud and trying to turn it into an apple pie,” Demboski said of the reform effort under discussion. “I’m not going to pretend all these little amendments are going to fix SB91. It’s not.”

The effort failed three to eight. Instead, the Assembly incorporated several amendments into a measure that is intended to instruct state lawmakers on local issues arising from parts of SB91—not all of which have gone fully into effect.

Liberal-leaning Assembly vice-chair Forrest Dunbar thinks the move encourages state lawmakers to continue down the same path they have already started on when they take up Senate Bill 54, the legislative vehicle for further changes to state criminal law.

“I think this is a strong resolution, a strong message to the Legislature, that we want you to take this step, pass SB54, and then let’s talk about other issues as well,” Dunbar said. “Let’s talk about staffing, let’s talk about treatment, let’s talk about the bail schedule.”

The measure urging specific reforms passed the Assembly 10 to one.