Legislature(2005 - 2006)HOUSE FINANCE 519
02/28/2006 01:30 PM FINANCE
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HOUSE BILL NO. 353 An Act relating to sentences for sexual offenses. CS FOR SENATE BILL NO. 218(FIN) An Act relating to sex offenders and child kidnappers; relating to reporting of sex offenders and child kidnappers; relating to periodic polygraph examinations for sex offenders released on probation or parole; relating to sexual abuse of a minor; relating to the definitions of 'aggravated sex offense' and 'child kidnapping'; relating to penalties for failure to report child abuse or neglect; relating to sentencing for sex offenders and habitual criminals; and providing for an effective date. Co-Chair Meyer explained that the Senate bill would be the vehicle the House Finance Committee would consider, as it was further along in the legislative process. He reminded members that HB 353 and SB 218 were companion bills. REPRESENTATIVE MARK NEUMAN, CO-SPONSOR, thanked his co- sponsors for helping to make Alaska a better place to live. He pointed out statistics indicating that Alaska ranks as #1 in rapes per capita throughout the United State. There are over 4300 registered sex offenders in the State of Alaska. He stressed that the price and costs associated with the victimization of the 521 statewide victims, averages about $86.5 thousand dollars per victim. That is over $45 million dollars per year in victim costs alone. Only 16% of rape victims report their rapes. Representative Neuman pointed out that when a perpetrator is put away for longer periods, they are often accused for additional crimes. The average sex offender commits approximately 110 rapes and 318 other offenses before they are caught. He stressed that there is an epidemic in Alaska and the brakes need to be put on. 2:25:24 PM SENATOR CON BUNDE, CO-SPONSOR, testified in support of CS SB 218 (FIN), pointing out it is a bipartisan and unicameral issue. The problem is huge throughout Alaska. The statistics are outrageous and many victims are hesitant to come forward. The problem is larger than is apparent. He noted that in certain areas of the State, there are over 1,000 registered sex offenders. Senator Bunde acknowledged all the help received from each of the staff and the departments affected. He added that the Department of Law, the Department of Public Safety and Department of Corrections have addressed the details & legal aspects. The Legislature handles public policy issues; hence, the reason for the bill. Senator Bunde elaborated on the testimony received in the House Judiciary Committee regarding the "sad but true" long- term effects experienced by the victim and the fact of a high recidivism rate and little change in the perpetrator's behavior. There have been many programs attempting to help change that behavior and none seem to work. In order to protect women and children in our society, it requires longer prison terms. He doubted that drugs and alcohol were the main factors contributing to the behavior. Senator Bunde acknowledged costs associated with incarceration. He believed that the costs associated with the long-term effects on the women and children were much higher. Senator Bunde rejected the notion that the legislation resulted from national "hysteria reaction" around Jessica's law. The bill provides the opportunity to address a long and overdue concern. The bill proposes longer sentencing and using polygraph testing for those on probation and parole. It has been proven that the polygraph testing, keeps the perpetrator relatively under compliance. He urged favorable consideration of the bill. 2:32:15 PM SENATOR GRETCHEN GUESS, CO-SPONSOR, testified in support of the legislation. She pointed out the number of co-sponsors with diverse party and regional support. Senator Guess addressed the values of the legislation. She indicated that sex crimes have always been "under-dog" considerations for the Legislature. Rape and molestation have been spoken of as a family or community matter. It has only been recently that people have become aware that these crimes are intentional acts of violence that are devastating. The Alaska Statutes carry a very low punishment and she asked if those punishments reflect the values of Alaskan communities. CS SB 218 (FIN) addresses these concerns. The bill before the Committee contains many compromises made along the way. 2:35:04 PM Senator Guess reminded members that the bill speaks to crimes of penetration, molestation, and incest in the third degree. Those crimes are very serious. The bill distinguishes sexual crimes against children with proof of the actual case and therefore, the sentence could be reduced for some molestation crimes. Senator Guess warned that crimes against of children are obscene. The range of activity in the bill was expanded when addressing molestation and incest, which warrant the range between the second and third degrees and would provide the flexibility within the judicial system on the nuances that happen with the above-mentioned crimes. 2:38:26 PM Senator Guess pointed out that the Sam 3 - the sexual abuse of a minor is not contained in the proposed legislation. Those cases identify "date-rape" and are not included in the sentencing guidelines at this time. She urged favorable consideration of the bill. 2:39:32 PM Vice Chair Stoltze thanked Senator Guess for the amount of work done on the legislation. Co-Chair Meyer pointed out that the original bill had "stiffer" penalties and asked why it had been modified. Senator Guess explained that her original bill had focused on the sexual abuse of a minor, not the sexual assault ranges. All the penalties were higher. Compromise resulted when addressing some of the "other crimes" out there. She noted that there always must be "give and take" when working with the whole legislative body and which, addressing crime of penetration and attempted rape of a child. Senator Guess was uncomfortable with the changes made in the Senate Finance Committee, reducing the sentence from 3 years to 1 year. 2:43:04 PM Senator Bunde noted that he had been one of the legislators recommending less severity in the punishment. He claimed there is an issue of proportionality regarding treatment of a convicted sex crime being treated more harshly than a murder crime. He agreed it was an important discussion to have. Discussing sentencing can accomplish several things and can place people in jail sending a clear message of societal standards. 2:45:14 PM Representative Neuman noted concerns regarding the proportionality of a Court challenge and recommending one or two years higher than the current sentencing. Representative Neuman stressed that these are "lifetime" crisis against the victim. He pointed out that he had not initially included polygraphs because of the fiscal expense; however, following discussion with Senator Guess, he now understands it would happen only twice a year and would cost around $200 dollars each time. The Court can order the perpetrator to pay for those costs. 2:46:54 PM Representative Kelly questioned if there had been public education notices for women and children around these matters. Senator Bunde replied he was not aware of such noticing happening in the State, however, in a less direct way, there has been press coverage and interest. The legislation would put out a considerable amount of information to the public indicating the new standards. Unless a person has been involved in the system before, they might not be aware of that information. He noted that some offenders intentionally move to states that do not use the polygraph system. 2:50:41 PM Representative Neuman noted the national media hype following the concern. The average person probably does not have to deal with it. Passage of the bill would provide a lot of Alaskan's with information on the vastness of these issues. 2:51:24 PM Senator Guess noted from comments heard in her district, citizens assume the sentencing is already that high. She noted especially crimes against children require public education, as is the case with sexual assault. She observed that public awareness is gradually increasing as the crimes become discussed within the communities & churches. She pointed out that crimes against children are sometimes committed by family-members. Senator Bunde observed the great number of articles in the newspapers recounting sexual assault cases, especially involving children. 2:54:49 PM Representative Kerttula commended the sponsors for shedding light on issues helping victims. She asked clarification regarding the Letter of Intent and the sources behind the shocking statistics. She referenced Page 3 and the horrific number of offenses happening before the perpetrator gets caught and asked if that number could be substantial. In the same section, it indicates that crimes go undetected for sometimes up to sixteen years. Representative Kerttula was shocked. 2:56:51 PM Senator Bunde emphasized the amount of time that went into preparing the report; he acknowledged it was startling. He referred to the footnote referencing the sex offender treatment evaluation report as the base for that information. He noted that Ms. Parker of the Department of Corrections could provide more information. Representative Kerttula requested a copy of that report. She voiced concern that some of the proposed sentences were higher than those for murder and questioned that philosophy. 2:58:08 PM Senator Bunde responded that it was not the intent to seek higher sentences than for murder or manslaughter. That was a policy decision, observing that many of these victims often face a "lifetime sentence". He advised that large sentences could serve as a deterrent, admitting that if the sentence is higher than manslaughter, it definitely, sends a strong message. 2:59:39 PM Senator Guess expressed that her analysis of the sentencing procedures reflected the nature of intention. When someone dies, there are multiple ways in which it may happen. Death could be unintentional, whereas there was not a case of unintentional sexual assault. She noted that since rape and molestation were intentional, the sentences should be higher, observing they do not extend as far as manslaughter. She noted that murder crimes were not taken into consideration when making the decisions for sentencing of sexual assault crimes. 3:03:10 PM Senator Guess advised that in most cases, there are multiple offenses, which played a part in determining the sentence for a single crime. Representative Neuman observed that there are many aspects to the issue of sentencing; the first being 15 to 25 years. He reiterated that the victim must deal with the crime, every day of their life. He referred to Page 3 from the Letter of Intent, noting that the average number of victims of a sex offender before caught is 110 and that they could go an average of 16 years before detected. 3:05:07 PM Representative Bunde thanked Representative Kerttula for mentioning the Letter of Intent, as it is an integral part of the bill. He knew that most likely there would be a Court challenge. He mentioned the amount of research in drafting the letter, so when the challenges happens, the Legislature will have the information. 3:05:53 PM Representative Kerttula suggested language be more specific. 3:07:12 PM Senator Guess referred to Ms. Parker, Department of Corrections. She pointed out that a defense attorney could bring up lesser crimes during a trial. A crime of harassment would be handled differently than the molestation and penetration. She agreed that there has not been a problem at this time with mandatory jail time and suggested there is subjectivity in the current legislation. She was not willing to trade leniency for child molesters. 3:09:21 PM Senator Guess commented on the differences that cross the ten-year line, stressing that rape should incur a serious sentence. 3:10:11 PM Senator Bunde acknowledged that Representative Kerttula had asked important questions and pointed out that all laws contain some ambiguity. He observed that prosecutorial discretion was a part of the current system and noted that a judge and jury play a part, as well as litigators, in the actual sentences served by a perpetrator. 3:11:39 PM Representative Neuman referred again to the Letter of Intent, highlighting that perpetrators of sexual crimes were often guilty of multiple incidents. Representative Kerttula thanked the panel for their work with a difficult topic. Representative Kelly observed that the perpetrators cannot be rehabilitated and expressed support for the longer sentences. 3:13:32 PM Senator Bunde advised that there was some small success in rehabilitation of offenders, who were the victims of incest. He concurred that there has not been broad success with most. 3:14:57 PM Senator Guess referred to a study tracing treatment of sex offenders. She noted that the study revealed that there was not a statistical difference between those treated and those untreated. She noted one of the key successful provisions in the sentencing portion of the bill is the automatic probation and polygraphs. She thought that could be the best practice to protect people and help those convicted of crimes. She observed a pattern of behavior and if revealed, could prevent recurrence with use of the polygraph. Required polygraph testing can serve as a deterrent to offenders. 3:17:03 PM Representative Neuman reiterated that the polygraph testing can decrease the rate of recurrence. 3:18:06 PM Senator Bunde stated that the current polygraph practice utilizes trained operators, which he hoped would be a regulated and standardized policy. Requiring specific training could make the legislation too inflexible. 3:19:02 PM Co-Chair Meyer opened PUBLIC TESTIMONY. SUEANN WILLIAMS TESTIFIED FOR ROBERT LOESCHER, SPIRIT VILLAGE INC., JUNEAU, read a letter of support from Robert Loescher, a board member for Spirit Village, Inc. (Copy on File). 3:21:54 PM Vice Chair Stoltze asked about the nature of Spirit Village and the services they provide. Ms. Williams responded that they are a non-profit organization, providing programs for prisoner's re-entry into the communities. Vice Chair Stoltze asked if it was a culturally based program. Ms. Williams replied that a portion was culturally based. 3:22:33 PM NICOLE SONGER, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CORDOVA FAMILY RESOURCE CENTER, CORDOVA, testified in support of the legislation and encouraged the Committee's support. 3:23:45 PM SUE CHRISTENSEN, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT, BERING SEA WOMEN'S GROUP, NOME, spoke to issues of harassment and child molestation. She stressed the "defenselessness" of a child and suggested that a law be passed, addressing the need for vulnerable children's protection for those 10 years and younger. She addressed mental illness, foster care, addicts, rapes and molestation of children and the need to front-load services for those victims. Ms. Christensen emphasized that these crimes "kill" and alter a child's core and deserves a death penalty. She mentioned the national law regarding the age of consent and requested clarification on the child kidnapping section. 3:27:30 PM QUINLAN STEINER, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), DIRECTOR, PUBLIC DEFENDER AGENCY, DEPARTMENT OF ADMINISTRATION, ANCHORAGE, commented that Section 2, as written, creates an irreconcilable conflict with the rules of professional conduct that would prevent the Public Defender's Agency to represent individuals guilty of a previous sex crime conviction. He advised, he was working with Susan Parks from the Department of Law, to develop language that would maintain the substance of that section and thought that there was language that could work for both parties. He offered to answer questions of the Committee. 3:29:11 PM GINGER BRYANT, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), SOUTH PENINSULA HAVEN HOUSE, HOMER, spoke in strong favor of the bill. She stressed how heartbreaking these crimes are against children. It is a crime of silence and without polygraphs, the crimes will continue. She urged that the perpetrators be placed behind bars. 3:30:39 PM CHRISTINE KERNAK, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), TUNDRA WOMAN'S COALITION, BETHEL, testified in strong support for the proposed legislation. 3:31:52 PM REX SHATTUCK, STAFF, REPRESENTATIVE MARK NEUMAN, indicated, he intended to provide personal testimony. He stated the legislation affects many people, known and unknown. Mr. Shattuck provided testimony regarding his own sexual abuse. He emphasized that the numbers provided in the backup are "very" realistic. He noted that his situation resulted in a Class B felony for the perpetrator and knew five other individuals impacted by the same person, who was in a place of authority, not a family member. Until recently, Representative Neuman admitted he had not been aware of the impact of Mr. Shattuck's personal abuse. He commented that he felt obligated to testify. Sentencing of a Class B felony can result in two to five years sentence. If the legislation were passed, that perpetrator would potentially be looking at five to fifteen years. Mr. Shattuck pointed out that he has dealt with the crime for 35+ years. When comparing it to a murder, with a murder situation, there is a sense of finality; however, with a crime of sexual molestation of a child, the victim deals with the devastation for a lifetime. The legislation provides an important message to those contemplating such a crime and sends a strong societal signal. He urged that the bill be passed from Committee. 3:36:28 PM Representative Kerttula apologized for any hurtful comments she might have made, noting her intent was that the State of Alaska draft a better and stronger law. 3:36:51 PM Co-Chair Meyer closed PUBLIC TESTIMONY. Co-Chair Meyer indicated that the Department of Corrections and Department of Law would provide testimony at the next meeting. Vice Chair Stoltze requested that the Public Defender be invited for that meeting. 3:38:03 PM Representative Foster discussed concern with the fiscal costs, mentioning subcommittee work to address such issues. He worried about the impact of those costs to the Alaska Court System and wondered about supplemental cost requests that would be associated with the increased penalties. Co-Chair Meyer echoed the same concerns, noting further discussion on those matters at the next meeting. HB 353 and CS SB 218 (FIN) were HEARD and HELD in Committee for further consideration.