Legislature(1993 - 1994)
03/24/1993 01:00 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 28: PENALTY FOR PROVIDING ALCOHOL TO A MINOR Number 356 REPRESENTATIVE BILL WILLIAMS, PRIME SPONSOR of HB 28, mentioned that a similar bill had been introduced the year before by former-Representative Cheri Davis, in response to the tragic alcohol-related deaths of two Ketchikan youths. He said that the purpose of the bill was to change the penalty for providing alcoholic beverages to persons under the age of 21. He said that the crime of furnishing alcohol to a minor was currently a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine. House Bill 28, he said, would make the same crime a class C felony with a maximum jail sentence of five years and a maximum fine of $50,000. REPRESENTATIVE WILLIAMS commented that HB 28 would serve as a greater deterrent to those providing alcohol to minors. Number 395 JEANNEANE HENRY testified via teleconference from Ketchikan. She mentioned that Kathy Blauser, Director of Ketchikan Youth Services, was unable to be present, but wished to convey her organization's wholehearted support for HB 28. MS. HENRY is the mother of one of the boys who was killed in 1991, after an adult provided a gallon of vodka to him and four other youths. She said that the man who purchased the vodka was arrested, sentenced, and then left the community after serving part of his sentence. She mentioned that the man had previously been sentenced in Oregon, to receive alcohol screening and treatment. However, due to a lack of monitoring, the man never received the treatment and left Oregon for Ketchikan. She said that if Oregon officials had monitored the man, her son might be alive today. Number 440 MS. HENRY said that adults giving children drugs was a serious crime that violated the rights of children to be protected by their parents and by the community. She said that many adults willingly provided alcohol to minors. She commented that one month after the man who had provided her son with alcohol was sentenced, another man provided alcohol to a minor, who was killed as a result. She said that children deserved more protection than the current law offered. She urged support for HB 28. REPRESENTATIVES NORDLUND and PHILLIPS joined the committee. Number 474 SUE PICKRELL, a drug prevention specialist with ALASKANS FOR DRUG-FREE YOUTH, testified via teleconference from Ketchikan. She urged the committee to pass out HB 28. She is a former police officer, who had often investigated minor consuming cases. She said that teenagers would often not tell law enforcement officers who had purchased alcohol for them, making arrests and prosecutions of adults difficult. She said that making a second offense of providing alcohol to a minor a felony was not out-of-line. She said that it would send a clear message to adults that furnishing alcohol to minors would no longer be tolerated. Number 493 LYNDA ADAMS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ALASKANS FOR DRUG-FREE YOUTH, testified via teleconference from Ketchikan. She mentioned that the bill introduced by former-Representative Cheri Davis had contained two components that were not included in HB 28. She suggested putting those two components back into the bill. One would require that signs regarding the penalties for furnishing alcohol to a minor be posted in bars and liquor stores. The other section provided that a minor who solicited an adult to purchase alcohol for him or her would be guilty of a misdemeanor. MS. ADAMS noted that the second provision would place some responsibility on the minor. She expressed her opinion that HB 28 was an effective tool for reducing alcohol consumption among youth. She urged the committee to pass the bill. Number 523 JOHN SALEMI, DIRECTOR, PUBLIC DEFENDER AGENCY, testified via teleconference from Anchorage. He said that passage of HB 28 would have a fiscal impact on his agency. He expressed his opinion that everyone could agree that alcohol was a drug, and was commonly abused by youth in our society, creating tremendous suffering. He commented that alcohol was a prevalent part of the social fabric in our society. He said that disagreement existed with regard to what effect HB 28 would have on the social problem of youth and alcohol. He stated that his agency felt that HB 28 would not have the desired impact of addressing the real problem of alcohol abuse. MR. SALEMI noted that not all social problems were susceptible to elimination or reduction through the passage of laws. He mentioned the federal Prohibition Law, which had significant penalties, but was consistently violated. He stated that in past hearings, HB 28 had been promoted as a means of deterring adults from furnishing liquor to minors. He said that if he thought HB 28 would serve as a deterrent, he would support it. However, he said that over the last ten years in Alaska, it had been found that enhancing penalties was not a guarantee that people would be less likely to engage in criminal conduct. MR. SALEMI commented that the Alaska criminal laws had been completely overhauled, yet crime was on the rise, and prison populations continued to grow. He said that the problem was that in many instances, crime was a thoughtless and impulsive act, and an offender did not necessarily consider the consequences of his or her actions. He questioned the value of stiff penalties and sentences. MR. SALEMI anticipated, based on DOL estimates, that HB 28 would result in the Public Defender Agency handling an additional 75-100 felony cases per year. Based on national caseload standards, he said, that would mean that his agency would require an additional half-time attorney and some support staff. He said that his agency's current staff simply could not absorb the increased caseload that would result from HB 28. MR. SALEMI suggested an alternative to HB 28. He said that furnishing alcohol to a minor was already a crime, with a maximum penalty of up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine. He recommended that judges be educated about the need to impose maximum penalties on those who furnished alcohol to minors. Additionally, he suggested that liquor stores post notices stating that it was a crime for adults to furnish alcohol to minors, and stating the penalties for committing that crime. He commented that the state might already have adequate laws on the books, but simply needed to educate judges and inform potential violators of the consequences of their actions. Number 647 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES asked Mr. Salemi how increasing the penalty for an existing crime would increase the number of cases handled by his agency. Number 653 MR. SALEMI replied that HB 28 would change the character of cases that his agency received. He noted that the DOL had estimated there were about 200 cases of adults furnishing alcohol to minors every year, and that 100 of those cases could be prosecuted as felony offenses, if HB 28 was enacted. That, he said, meant cases that his agency now handled as misdemeanors would become felonies, which entailed much more work. Number 679 REPRESENTATIVE KOTT asked Mr. Salemi if increasing the penalty for furnishing alcohol to a minor to life imprisonment would serve as a deterrent, in light of Mr. Salemi's earlier questioning of the deterrent value of increasing penalties for furnishing alcohol to minors. Number 686 MR. SALEMI responded that if penalties were grave enough for all crimes, society might eventually see some deterrent effect. The question then became, he said, what was society willing to spend in order to achieve that deterrent effect? He stated that capital punishment or life imprisonment would likely result in some deterrent effect, but the issue was whether or not offenders would process that information, if they knew it at all, at the time they were considering committing the crime. Number 705 REPRESENTATIVE KOTT asked Mr. Salemi to comment on the potential deterrent effect of posting signs in liquor stores, stating what the penalties were for providing alcohol to minors. Number 711 MR. SALEMI said that he had mentioned posting signs in liquor stores, because in reviewing his notes from when HB 28 was heard in the House Health, Education and Social Services (HESS) Committee, proponents of the bill had mentioned adding a section to HB 28 requiring the posting of signs. He did not necessarily agree that posting signs would have a deterrent effect. However, he said that under current law, signs could be posted in liquor stores. He said that posting signs certainly would not hurt, and would cost very little money. Number 731 CHAIRMAN PORTER mentioned that someone had testified earlier that HB 28 would only apply to second and subsequent convictions for furnishing alcohol to minors. However, he clarified for committee members that the bill would also affect first-time offenders. He asked Mr. Salemi if a person convicted of a misdemeanor for furnishing alcohol to a minor could be subject to civil litigation. Number 734 MR. SALEMI replied that nothing that had occurred in criminal court would preclude an injured party or his or her family from filing a civil action. He stated that a criminal court could also order restitution, upon conviction of an individual. Number 748 MS. HENRY stated that, as the mother of a child who was killed after an adult furnished him with alcohol, a penalty of life imprisonment for that adult would be fine with her. However, she said that she knew that that was impractical. She recommended putting some "meat" into the current law and sending a clear message to adults that it was not acceptable to furnish minors with alcohol. She stated that providing alcohol to minors was a serious crime. She indicated that in many cases, civil litigation did not work, as offenders were sometimes indigent. She stated that making the crime a misdemeanor did not send a strong enough message to society. Number 793 MS. KNUTH stated that making Alaska a "dry" state would result in much less crime and suffering. She said that a very substantial percentage of crimes committed were alcohol-related. She added that there was a double standard when it came to alcohol in our society. Parents did not want their children to drink, she said, yet the parents would not stop drinking themselves. Not only was it legal for children to start drinking once they turned 21, she said, but it also was not a crime for parents to furnish alcohol to their own children. Number 805 MS. KNUTH noted the existing disparity between adults lawfully providing alcohol to their own children, and adults illegally providing alcohol to other minors. House Bill 28, she said, would create an even greater disparity. She commented that making the furnishing of alcohol to minors a felony offense might not have the desired effect. Now, she said, furnishing alcohol to a minor was a serious misdemeanor, one taken very seriously by judges, and punished rather severely. If the crime was changed to be a felony, she continued, offenders would be brought before superior court judges instead of district court judges. Number 830 MS. KNUTH said that in comparison to other crimes that superior court judges saw, furnishing alcohol to a minor would seem like a pretty minor offense. TAPE 93-40, SIDE B Number 000 MS. KNUTH stated that the effect of HB 28 would probably be that offenders would serve even less jail time than they did now. She said that Representative Cheri Davis' bill had proposed making second and subsequent offenses felonies. She again mentioned that making the crime a felony at all was troublesome to her. She commented that a situation in which furnishing alcohol to a minor resulted in that minor's death could result in an adult being prosecuted for homicide. She commented that the Ketchikan case was a tragedy. Number 042 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES asked Ms. Knuth to comment on the social stigma associated with being a felon, and its deterrent value. Number 057 MS. KNUTH stated that being labeled a felon had a significant impact on non-indigent individuals, as it made it difficult for a person to get a job. Yet she did not know that it would have any deterrent effect because offenders, in her view, did not consider the consequences prior to furnishing alcohol to minors. She expressed doubt that people would know that the crime was a felony. The criminal mentality, she said, was very limited, and offenders did not expect to get caught. Number 083 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES asked Ms. Knuth to express her opinion on posting signs in liquor stores. Number 097 MS. KNUTH was aware of signs already in liquor stores, which stated that minors were not allowed on the premises. She said that if those signs did not make a person furnishing alcohol to a minor think about his or her actions, she was not sure that a new sign would serve as a deterrent. She said that a large part of the problem was that many people did not feel that furnishing alcohol to minors was an inherently bad thing, as evidenced by the large number of adults who were willing to provide alcohol to minors. Number 126 REPRESENTATIVE JIM NORDLUND asked Ms. Knuth if a parent could be prosecuted for a situation in which his or her child, accompanied by another minor, raided that parent's liquor cabinet, unbeknownst to the parent. Number 139 MS. KNUTH replied that that parent could be prosecuted, although the prosecution would be difficult. Number 155 REPRESENTATIVE NORDLUND stated that under HB 28, then, a parent in that situation could be subject to a five-year prison sentence. MS. KNUTH concurred. Number 159 REPRESENTATIVE KOTT asked what the mean sentence was for violation of the current law regarding furnishing alcohol to minors. Number 166 MS. KNUTH did not have that information with her. Number 174 REPRESENTATIVE KOTT asked if the state had any data pertaining to what type of people furnished alcohol to minors. Number 184 MS. KNUTH replied that two classes of people would be subjected to liability under HB 28's provisions. The first class was liquor store clerks, she said, easily caught and prosecuted. However, she said that those people were not whom HB 28 meant to target. With regard to non-liquor store clerks, she suspected that offenders would be more responsible than the average defendant in criminal court. She said that most defendants would probably believe they were not doing any harm by providing alcohol to minors. Number 222 REPRESENTATIVE KOTT asked if a Department of Corrections (DOC) representative could explain that agency's fiscal note. Number 228 DANA LATOUR, SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE COMMISSIONER OF THE DOC, described how she had prepared the fiscal note on HB 28. She called the members' attention to the third paragraph on page 2 of the DOC's fiscal note. She said that, for the purposes of the fiscal note, she had assumed that the lowest mean sentence for a class C felony of this type was 7.5 months, or 225 bed days. The average mean sentence for a class A misdemeanor, as providing alcohol to a minor currently was, was 1.5 months, or 45 days, she added. Number 265 MS. LATOUR said that by raising the offense from a class A misdemeanor to a class C felony, offenders would receive sentences of an additional 180 days. Subtracting one-third of that sentence for "good time," she said, left an increase of 120 days. Multiplying 120 bed days by 100 convictions (a figure that she got from the DOL), by the average cost of incarceration at a community residential center, $50 per day, she arrived at the cost of HB 28 at $600,000 per year. Number 281 REPRESENTATIVE KOTT asked how she had arrived at the mean sentence of 45 days for the class A misdemeanor for providing alcohol to a minor. Number 294 MS. LATOUR replied that the 45-day figure was based somewhat on assumption. She said that she had spoken with many experts to determine how long these offenders served. Number 306 REPRESENTATIVE KOTT commented that the correctional data information system in the state needed to be improved. Number 313 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN asked Ms. Latour if the DOC's fiscal note would be less, in light of Ms. Knuth's testimony that elevating the crime from a misdemeanor to a felony might result in judges handing down shorter sentences. Number 342 MS. LATOUR did not know how Ms. Knuth's theory would impact the DOC's fiscal note. Number 351 JIM FISK testified via teleconference from Kodiak. He has been involved in the liquor business for over 40 years, and said that the problem of minor consuming was an age-old problem that started at home. He stated that all the legislation in the world would not stop minors from drinking. He said that the education process needed to begin at home and in the schools. Number 378 MR. FISK added that Alaska was unique in its approach of having the legislature, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, and the liquor industry work together to bring about the use of alcohol management techniques. He cited a bill that would require alcohol dispensers to pass an alcohol management course. He asserted that the state could not simply post signs and expect deterrence. He indicated his lack of support for HB 28. Number 416 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES made a MOTION to MOVE HB 28 out of committee with individual recommendations and accompanying fiscal notes. Number 422 REPRESENTATIVE NORDLUND OBJECTED. Number 430 REPRESENTATIVE KOTT OBJECTED for the purpose of taking an "at ease" at 2:18 p.m. The committee then reconvened at 2:19 p.m. Number 436 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES WITHDREW her MOTION to MOVE HB 28 out of committee. Number 439 REPRESENTATIVE KOTT stated that he would WITHDRAW his OBJECTION. Number 440 CHAIRMAN PORTER noted that with the motion withdrawn, the objections were already removed. He said that during the brief "at ease," it had come to his attention that it was the will of the committee that HB 28 needed work. He APPOINTED A SUBCOMMITTEE consisting of Representatives Phillips, Kott, and Nordlund to consider amendments to HB 28. He asked the subcommittee to bring the bill back before the committee as soon as they had done their work. CHAIRMAN PORTER announced that the committee would address HB 168 next.