Legislature(1993 - 1994)
04/07/1993 01:00 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 119: AUTHORIZE USE OF DAY FINES IN MISD. CASES Number 153 ART SNOWDEN, ADMINISTRATIVE DIRECTOR, ALASKA COURT SYSTEM, mentioned that his agency had researched day fines and written a report on them. He said that the concept of day fines was not new, particularly in Europe, but was new to Alaska. He noted that HB 119 envisioned using fines, rather than incarceration or other sanctions, as punishment for certain non-violent misdemeanors. He said that day fines were based on both the seriousness of a crime and the income of the offender. He added that day fines were the primary penalty used in Germany, Sweden, and other European countries. Number 168 MR. SNOWDEN noted that the Court System believed using day fines would have several advantages. Unlike incarceration, he said, fines would generate revenue for municipalities and the state. Also, he said, fines would be inexpensive to administer, compared to jail time or other sanctions. Additionally, fines were already used in some form in most courts, he said, so the additional burden of day fines would be small. Number 183 MR. SNOWDEN indicated the Court System's support for HB 119. He stated that it currently took the Court System eleven months to get a misdemeanant into jail in Anchorage, due to prison crowding. He said that such unsure punishment would not deter anyone from doing anything. He said that the judicial system was frustrated in trying to carry out the laws passed by the legislature. However, he said that the judicial branch felt that not every crime demanded incarceration. MR. SNOWDEN mentioned that the use of day fines was being experimented with in several counties in the United States. He said that Alaska was facing a prison crisis, and should look into using day fines. Number 237 REPRESENTATIVE FRAN ULMER, PRIME SPONSOR of HB 119, stated that the bill would provide an additional option to sentencing judges. She said that day fines would be used for misdemeanors other than crimes against a person. She noted that one rationale behind HB 119 was to get money flowing into the treasury, instead of out of the treasury and into the correctional system. She mentioned the current bed shortage in Alaska's prisons, and said that ten out of twelve of the state's prisons were full. The state had to do many things to relieve the pressure, she said. The imposition of day fines was one of those things, she stated. REPRESENTATIVE ULMER commented that European countries had employed day fines for years. Those countries incarcerated less, and had stiffer fines than the United States did, she said. She commented that day fines would teach individuals that crime did not pay. She questioned whether rehabilitation was accomplished by incarcerating an offender for several months. She expressed her opinion that day fines were especially appropriate for non-violent, first offenders. Number 302 REPRESENTATIVE JOE GREEN believed that day fines would have a deterrent effect. However, he expressed concerns about how day fines would work for unemployed or cyclically- employed offenders. Number 312 REPRESENTATIVE ULMER thought that day fines would work, regardless of when a person was employed. Number 321 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN asked Mr. Snowden to address what would happen if a welfare recipient received a day fine. Number 325 MR. SNOWDEN responded that day fines were so named because they were tailored to a particular individual's income. The current system imposed similar fines on offenders for specific offenses regardless of their ability to pay. Consequently, he said, many fines now went unpaid. He said that for welfare recipients, community service could be performed, in lieu of a monetary fine. REPRESENTATIVE ULMER commented that the Court System's study of day fines found them to be effective, even for low-income offenders. REPRESENTATIVE GAIL PHILLIPS asked Representative Ulmer if the state had attempted to implement a day fine program in the past. REPRESENTATIVE ULMER replied in the negative. Number 352 REPRESENTATIVE NORDLUND thought that day fines were a good idea. He expressed his opinion that static fines were ineffective. He questioned whether the Court System would be able to collect the day fines. Number 363 MR. SNOWDEN noted that the Court System was currently not very successful in its efforts to collect fines. Many people were unable to pay fines, he said, especially when they were incarcerated. He said that the Department of Law now employed an attorney whose job it was to collect fines of over $250. He noted that some day fines would definitely fall into that category. Additionally, he said that the Court System was attempting to impose "electronic executions," whereby fines of even less than $250 could be paid through electronic transfers, reducing collection costs. MR. SNOWDEN believed that the Court System would be more successful in collecting day fines than it currently was in collecting other types of fines. He commented that in one study, researchers had found that 85% of day fines were paid in full, compared with 70% of other types of fines. He hoped, if the day fine experiment worked, in the future non- violent class C felonies might be added to the list of crimes covered by day fines. Number 404 REPRESENTATIVE PHILLIPS expressed her opinion that day fines were a very good idea. Number 409 REPRESENTATIVE ULMER called the committee's attention to a PROPOSED AMENDMENT, dated March 10, 1993, included in their bill packets. She said that the amendment would try to address a concern that the legislature was giving too much latitude to the Court System in devising the day fine system. The amendment would create a two-tiered day fine system, to reflect class A and class B misdemeanors. She commented that she was willing to leave creation of the program up to the Court System's discretion, but she did not oppose adoption of the amendment. REPRESENTATIVE ULMER noted that the amendment addressed questions raised by the Legislative Affairs' Agency's Division of Legal Services. Number 434 MR. SNOWDEN stated that the Court System supported the amendment. He said that any new pilot project should have strict guidelines, which could be loosened in the future. Number 440 REPRESENTATIVE PHILLIPS MOVED AMENDMENT NO. 1, dated March 10, 1993. There being no objection, the AMENDMENT WAS ADOPTED. Number 452 CHAIRMAN PORTER asked if the Court System would be precluded from employing other sanctions, if it chose to use day fines. Number 456 MR. SNOWDEN hoped day fines would be used as a primary penalty, but said that the Court System would not be precluded from employing other sanctions as well. Number 467 REPRESENTATIVE ULMER commented that a day fine would be an option for a judge, and part of a long list of sentencing options. She stated that if the day fine option was chosen, it was envisioned as a "stand alone" sentencing choice, as opposed to being in addition to another type of sentence. Number 480 CHAIRMAN PORTER understood that day fines were intended to serve as an alternative to jail time. He could, however, see day fines working in concert with community work service. REPRESENTATIVE ULMER said that such a combination would not be precluded. MR. SNOWDEN commented that other types of fines would not be precluded, either. Number 487 CHAIRMAN PORTER expressed concerns about imposing day fines on "youthful offenders," aged 18-25. He commented that in many cases, parents paid fines for these youthful offenders. He asked if the Court System could assess such situations and make day fines commensurate with a parent's income, instead of the youthful offender's. Number 495 MR. SNOWDEN did not know the answer to the Chairman's question, but suspected that the Court System could not impose a day fine commensurate with a parent's income in that situation. Number 510 REPRESENTATIVE NORDLUND mentioned that HB 119 required that fines be paid within 180 days of their imposition. He commented that, for very large fines, 180 days was a pretty short period of time. Number 518 MR. SNOWDEN replied that the Court System wanted the day fines to "hurt." Spreading a fine out over a longer period of time would make it hurt less, he said. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES made a MOTION to MOVE CSHB 119 (JUD) out of committee, with individual recommendations and attached fiscal notes. Number 532 CHAIRMAN PORTER commented that HB 119 required the Department of Corrections (DOC) to submit an annual report on the day fine system. He asked why the DOC was being asked to submit the report. Number 538 REPRESENTATIVE ULMER replied that the Court System might be a more appropriate agency to write the report. She also suggested requiring that the first report be filed two years from the bill's enactment, instead of one year, as it would take some time for results to be known. Number 548 MR. SNOWDEN agreed with changing the reporting agency from the DOC to the Court System and delaying the date of the first report until two years after enactment of HB 119. Number 553 CHAIRMAN PORTER OFFERED A CONCEPTUAL AMENDMENT making those two changes. REPRESENTATIVE ULMER and MR. SNOWDEN expressed their support. Number 555 REPRESENTATIVE PHILLIPS MOVED the AMENDMENT. There being no objection, IT WAS ADOPTED. REPRESENTATIVE GREEN asked if there was any problem with the amendment showing 365 day units as a possible fine which needed to be paid within 180 days. Number 568 MR. SNOWDEN replied that, in his opinion, the language did not present a problem. Number 571 CHAIRMAN PORTER explained that Representative Green was referring to the formula used for calculating day fines. Number 579 REPRESENTATIVE NORDLUND made a MOTION to MOVE CSHB 119 (JUD), as amended, out of committee, with individual recommendations and attached fiscal notes. There being no objection, IT WAS SO ORDERED. CHAIRMAN PORTER announced that the committee would take up HB 65 next.