Legislature(2007 - 2008)CAPITOL 120

02/06/2008 01:00 PM JUDICIARY

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Moved Out of Committee
Heard & Held
<Bill Hearing Canceled>
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
<Bill Hearing Rescheduled to 02/08/08>
Moved CSHJR 28(JUD) Out of Committee
HB 268 - MOTOR VEHICLE ARSON ON PUBLIC LAND                                                                                   
1:20:36 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR RAMRAS announced  that the next order of  business would be                                                               
HOUSE BILL  NO. 268, "An  Act relating  to damaging a  vehicle on                                                               
public land by starting a fire or causing an explosion."                                                                        
1:20:44 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE BILL  STOLTZE, Alaska State  Legislature, sponsor,                                                               
said of HB  268 that it is very important  to the "Butte portion"                                                               
of his  district and addresses an  issue that was brought  to his                                                               
attention [by constituents].                                                                                                    
CHAIR  RAMRAS noted  that  the  Knik River  Public  Use Area  has                                                               
experienced a  great deal of  lawlessness, included  the lighting                                                               
of cars on fire.                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE STOLTZE  concurred, adding  that although  some of                                                               
that activity  has been curtailed, it  still continues, blighting                                                               
the area as  well creating a safety hazard for  those who respond                                                               
to  those fires.   House  Bill 268  is intended  to address  this                                                               
problem.   Specifically, the bill adds  to AS 11.46 the  crime of                                                               
arson in  the third degree,  and makes it a  class C felony.   He                                                               
offered his hope  that the bill will serve as  a deterrent rather                                                               
than be  imposed in that  many instances, and mentioned  that the                                                               
bill has been  reviewed by community leaders  and law enforcement                                                               
entities.   He said he  hears about this activity  frequently and                                                               
spends much of  his time dealing with issues arising  in the Knik                                                               
River Public Use  Area; the behavior of lighting cars  on fire or                                                               
causing  them  to explode  is  behavior  that can't  be  resolved                                                               
through regulation.                                                                                                             
CHAIR  RAMRAS asked  whether  the bill  applies  to both  working                                                               
motor vehicles and abandoned motor vehicles.                                                                                    
1:26:34 PM                                                                                                                    
BEN MULLIGAN, Staff to Representative  Bill Stoltze, Alaska State                                                               
Legislature,  on  behalf   of  Representative  Stoltze,  sponsor,                                                               
explained that it does, since the  vehicles being lit on fire are                                                               
not always abandoned vehicles.                                                                                                  
REPRESENTATIVE  HOLMES  questioned  whether  the  proposed  crime                                                               
ought to be a class A  misdemeanor - like the crime of criminally                                                               
negligent burning - rather than a class C felony.                                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE STOLTZE offered that the  behavior HB 268 is meant                                                               
to address  is similar to  the behavior outlined in  the existing                                                               
arson  statutes,  which  are  both  felonies,  including  causing                                                               
potential risks  to public safety.   He reiterated his  hope that                                                               
the  bill won't  be applied  in many  instances but  will instead                                                               
serve as  a deterrent.   In response to  a question, he  said the                                                               
bill  is  aimed at  the  person  starting  the  fire and  is  not                                                               
focusing on why the vehicle is lit on fire.                                                                                     
MR. MULLIGAN  added that  the bill will  apply regardless  of why                                                               
the vehicle is lit on fire.                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE DOOGAN,  referring to the photographs  included in                                                               
members' packets,  noted that some  of the burned cars  also have                                                               
bullet holes  in them,  and asked  whether current  law precludes                                                               
shooting vehicles in a public use area.                                                                                         
REPRESENTATIVE  STOLTZE  said  he  is   not  aware  of  any  laws                                                               
addressing  the  shooting  of   vehicles,  though  that  behavior                                                               
certainly contributes to the blight.                                                                                            
REPRESENTATIVE DOOGAN  questioned whether those in  charge of the                                                               
public use area are going to address that issue as well.                                                                        
MR. MULLIGAN indicated that they  are currently going through the                                                               
process of designating both safe and unsafe shooting areas.                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE STOLTZE relayed that  they don't want the shooting                                                               
of vehicles continuing either.                                                                                                  
REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL opined that  vandalizing vehicles rises to                                                               
the same level as lighting them on fire.                                                                                        
REPRESENTATIVE  STOLTZE said  his  larger concern  is the  public                                                               
safety risk  associated with burning  vehicles, adding  that that                                                               
is the issue the public wants to see resolved.                                                                                  
1:34:00 PM                                                                                                                    
RUSS  MADDOX,  Resurrection  Bay  Conservation  Alliance  (RBCA),                                                               
relayed that  the RBCA supports HB  268.  The burning  of cars is                                                               
not just  a problem  in the  Matanuska-Susitna region;  it's also                                                               
been a big problem  in Seward for a number of  years.  He offered                                                               
his observation that those who  are abandoning their vehicles are                                                               
not always  the same  people who are  lighting those  vehicles on                                                               
fire and otherwise  vandalizing them.  One  possible solution, he                                                               
proffered,  would be  to make  it  easier and  cheaper to  safely                                                               
dispose  of  vehicles,  rather  than  merely  punishing  the  end                                                               
product  of their  being  burned.   He surmised  that  this is  a                                                               
statewide problem.                                                                                                              
1:35:48 PM                                                                                                                    
WYN  MENEFEE, Chief  of Operations,  Central Office,  Division of                                                               
Mining, Land  and Water, Department  of Natural  Resources (DNR),                                                               
relayed  that  the burning  of  vehicles  is occurring  on  state                                                               
lands,  and that  removing such  vehicles  comes at  considerable                                                               
cost.  The  State of Alaska, itself, has paid  to remove about 50                                                               
such  vehicles,  the Fairbanks  North  Star  Borough has  removed                                                               
about 60 such vehicles from  state lands, and private groups have                                                               
cleaned up over  100 such vehicles from the Knik  area.  Anything                                                               
that can be done to discourage  the activity of burning cars will                                                               
be beneficial.                                                                                                                  
1:37:26 PM                                                                                                                    
ARTHUR M.  QUAAS said he  would be speaking  in favor of  HB 268.                                                               
He relayed that he lives on the  south side of the Knik River and                                                               
can see the public  use area on the other side  of the river, and                                                               
that he used  to call the Division of Alaska  State Troopers on a                                                               
regular basis to  report burning cars, but the  response from the                                                               
division was  always that law  enforcement personnel  didn't have                                                               
any way to  access that area and couldn't do  anything about that                                                               
activity anyway.   After his  name was broadcast over  the police                                                               
radio a  couple of times,  he stopped making such  calls, because                                                               
those who are  out setting vehicles on fire  were also monitoring                                                               
the  police radio  so that  they'd know  when to  leave an  area.                                                               
When watching a  vehicle on fire, one is left  wondering just how                                                               
long  it will  be before  the  surrounding area  also catches  on                                                               
fire.   In conclusion, he  reiterated that he  is in favor  of HB                                                               
1:39:15 PM                                                                                                                    
KENNY BARBER,  after relaying that  he lives in the  "Butte area"                                                               
and has helped remove some of  the vehicles that have been set on                                                               
fire, said  he supports HB 268.   He posited that  the setting of                                                               
vehicles  on fire  is a  statewide problem,  and opined  that the                                                               
bill will help in the long run.                                                                                                 
1:41:14 PM                                                                                                                    
PATTY BARBER said she supports  HB 268, and opined that something                                                               
like it has been needed for a long time.                                                                                        
CHAIR  RAMRAS surmised  that the  question  the committee  should                                                               
address is whether  the behavior outlined in the  bill warrants a                                                               
class C felony.                                                                                                                 
REPRESENTATIVE STOLTZE concurred.                                                                                               
1:42:31 PM                                                                                                                    
GREGORY  NELSON  (ph),  Co-Founder, Butte  Area  Residents  Civic                                                               
Organization (BARCO), indicated  that BARCO requested legislation                                                               
such as HB 268.  "Car  burnings" have been a concern of residents                                                               
for many,  many years, he  added, and expressed  appreciation for                                                               
making  the burning  of vehicles  on  state or  municipal land  a                                                               
class C felony.  He went on to say:                                                                                             
     For over 25 years we've  been told by borough and state                                                                    
     officials that  they don't have  the resources  nor the                                                                    
     tools   to  fight   the   epidemic   of  car   burnings                                                                    
     everywhere.   These  activities has  been accelerating,                                                                    
     endangering   local  firefighters,   contaminating  our                                                                    
     woods  and waterways,  placing our  homes and  lives in                                                                    
     danger, and  condemning this  great community  and this                                                                    
     beautiful  area  to  a reputation  that  belittles  and                                                                    
     contradicts  the values  and standards  which residents                                                                    
     in  normal communities  can  rightfully and  peacefully                                                                    
MR. NELSON  opined that passage  of HB 268 will  assure concerned                                                               
residents  and  other  users  of public  spaces  that  when  they                                                               
observe and  report this particular criminal  activity, they will                                                               
be assisting law enforcement agencies  which will then arrest and                                                               
charge those  committing this  offense.   He said  that residents                                                               
have seen  a steady increase  in illegal activities in  the area,                                                               
and that perhaps  the behavior of vandalizing a  vehicle on state                                                               
or municipal land should also  be curtailed, adding that adequate                                                               
vehicle disposal has always been an issue.                                                                                      
[Chair Ramras turned the gavel over to Vice Chair Dahlstrom.]                                                                   
1:45:19 PM                                                                                                                    
DAVID TYLER, State  Fire Marshal; Director, Division  of Fire and                                                               
Life  Safety,  Department of  Public  Safety  (DPS), opined  that                                                               
legislation such  has HB 268  should have been introduced  a long                                                               
time  ago.   Burning  vehicles  are  dangerous, particularly  for                                                               
firefighters,  because vehicle  fires  create a  lot of  hazards.                                                               
For  example,  "shock-absorber"  bumpers,  when  heated  up,  can                                                               
explode like  grenades and take  a firefighter out at  the knees;                                                               
fuel  tanks  can fail,  thus  spilling  fuel  on the  ground  and                                                               
creating further  hazard; many items  that people carry  in their                                                               
vehicles  can  also  create  a   hazard.    Just  walking  up  to                                                               
extinguish  a burning  vehicle is  an  extremely dangerous  task.                                                               
Furthermore,  burning vehicles  can  start  wild-land fires,  and                                                               
although to-date there  have not been any  large wild-land fires,                                                               
they are cause  for concern because they  threaten wildlife, wild                                                               
lands, human life, and personal  property.  He concurred that the                                                               
Butte area isn't the only area  of the state that is experiencing                                                               
this problem.   In  conclusion, he said  he strongly  supports HB                                                               
[Vice Chair Dahlstrom returned the gavel to Chair Ramras.]                                                                      
CHAIR  RAMRAS asked  what the  current penalty  is for  burning a                                                               
MR. MULLIGAN  offered his understanding  that currently  there is                                                               
no  specific penalty,  but  that perhaps  the  activity could  be                                                               
charged as criminal mischief.                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE STOLTZE  reiterated that the bill  establishes the                                                               
crime  of arson  in  the third  degree  and makes  it  a class  C                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE  COGHILL pointed  out, though,  that the  crime of                                                               
criminal mischief in  the third degree is also a  class C felony,                                                               
and that  HB 268 specifies that  the arson be committed  on state                                                               
or municipal land.                                                                                                              
CHAIR RAMRAS asked  whether one could be  arrested for committing                                                               
a class A misdemeanor crime.                                                                                                    
1:50:07 PM                                                                                                                    
RODNEY   DIAL,  Lieutenant,   Deputy  Commander,   A  Detachment,                                                               
Division of  Alaska State Troopers,  Department of  Public Safety                                                               
(DPS), offered his understanding that  for a class A misdemeanor,                                                               
a person  can only be arrested  if he/she commits the  offense in                                                               
the presence of a law  enforcement officer; if the officer didn't                                                               
witness  the event,  he/she would  complete an  investigation and                                                               
then forward  that information to the  district attorney's office                                                               
for prosecution.   In response to a question, he  said that if an                                                               
officer  came across  a burning  vehicle,  he/she would  probably                                                               
first try to ensure the safety  of those around the vehicle, then                                                               
call the  appropriate resources to  deal with the fire,  and then                                                               
conduct an investigation  regarding who owns the  vehicle and who                                                               
started the  fire.  He  offered his understanding that  the crime                                                               
of  criminally negligent  burning  - AS  11.46.430  - would  only                                                               
apply if  the vehicle  belonged to  someone else;  currently, one                                                               
can burn his/her own vehicle.                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  STOLTZE  noted that  the  question  of whether  a                                                               
particular behavior  is intentional  requires a high  standard of                                                               
proof, and surmised, therefore, that  HB 268 won't make it easier                                                               
to arrest and prosecute someone.   Setting cars on fire, however,                                                               
creates risk  to life  and property,  and it  is that  risk which                                                               
HB 268 is intended to address.                                                                                                  
REPRESENTATIVE DOOGAN  pointed out,  though, that that  same risk                                                               
is created regardless of where the  car is located when it is set                                                               
on fire,  and regardless of who  owns the car.   He asked whether                                                               
current law  addresses situations  in which  vehicles are  set on                                                               
fire on  private property and  when the  vehicle is owned  by the                                                               
person setting it on fire.                                                                                                      
REPRESENTATIVE STOLTZE  said the bill only  addresses activity on                                                               
state and  municipal land because  that's where the  offenses are                                                               
occurring,  and   characterized  that  limitation  as   a  policy                                                               
LIEUTENANT DIAL said the troopers  do not investigate individuals                                                               
destroying property  on their own  private property -  there just                                                               
is not the same level of interest.                                                                                              
REPRESENTATIVE DOOGAN  surmised that  the burning of  vehicles is                                                               
not occurring on private, federal, or Native corporation land.                                                                  
LIEUTENANT DIAL indicated that the  troopers haven't received any                                                               
such complaints.                                                                                                                
The committee took an at-ease from 1:56 p.m. to 2:01 p.m.                                                                       
2:01:53 PM                                                                                                                    
GERALD   LUCKHAUPT,   Attorney,    Legislative   Legal   Counsel,                                                               
Legislative  Legal  and  Research Services,  Legislative  Affairs                                                               
Agency  (LAA),  as  the  drafter,  in  response  to  a  question,                                                               
explained that the  sponsor wanted to establish a  lesser form of                                                               
the  crime of  arson, and  that militated  that that  crime be  a                                                               
class C  felony.  However,  should the committee decide  that the                                                               
behavior  outlined in  HB 268  would be  better equated  with the                                                               
crime of criminally negligent burning,  the bill could be altered                                                               
to  that  effect.     He  offered  his   understanding  that  the                                                               
difference in penalties  for a class A misdemeanor  as opposed to                                                               
a class C felony is that the  former could warrant up to one year                                                               
in jail  and a  fine of  up to $5,000,  whereas the  latter could                                                               
warrant up to five years in  jail - though there is a presumptive                                                               
sentencing range  of between zero and  two years - and  a fine of                                                               
up to $10,000.                                                                                                                  
LIEUTENANT  DIAL,  in  response   to  comments  and  a  question,                                                               
observed that  the current  criminally negligent  burning statute                                                               
doesn't seem to be discouraging  the activity of setting vehicles                                                               
on fire.   [Notwithstanding existing  AS 11.46.400] he  said that                                                               
the troopers  only charge  a person  with a  felony if  damage to                                                               
property belonging to another exceeds  $500, and surmised that it                                                               
could be argued  that the cost to the public  of putting out such                                                               
a fire  and disposing of  a burned  vehicle far exceeds  $500 and                                                               
thus a felony charge would be appropriate.                                                                                      
MR. LUCKHAUPT added  that if there was a reason  to recommend one                                                               
type  of charge  over the  other it  would be  that the  crime of                                                               
criminally  negligent  burning  already   exists  as  a  class  A                                                               
misdemeanor  and requires  a  lesser mental  state  than HB  268,                                                               
which requires that someone intentionally  damage a motor vehicle                                                               
- though it matters not who's vehicle  it is - by starting a fire                                                               
or  causing  an  explosion  while  the vehicle  is  on  state  or                                                               
municipal land.   Therefore, if  the activity outlined in  HB 268                                                               
becomes a class A misdemeanor,  most such cases would be subsumed                                                               
by the criminally  burning negligent statute and  so the proposed                                                               
offense  wouldn't   be  needed   or  used  because   it  requires                                                               
additional proof.                                                                                                               
2:07:29 PM                                                                                                                    
MR. LUCKHAUPT, in  response to a comment, reiterated  that HB 268                                                               
would  apply regardless  of who  owns the  vehicle being  burned;                                                               
furthermore, if  the penalty remains  a class C felony,  then the                                                               
bill  would  also  continue  to  require  a  higher  mens  rea  -                                                               
"intentionally".  He  opined that the bill  proposes a reasonable                                                               
progression with regard  to penalties and mental  intent.  Again,                                                               
if  the penalty  proposed in  HB 268  were lowered  to a  class A                                                               
misdemeanor, it wouldn't be used.                                                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE HOLMES suggested that  they could instead make the                                                               
penalty  a class  A misdemeanor  and reduce  the required  mental                                                               
state to criminal negligence.                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE STOLTZE  pointed out  that that's  essentially the                                                               
crime of  criminally negligent  burning, which  has proven  to be                                                               
ineffective.   He again reiterated  his hope that the  bill won't                                                               
be used often but will instead act as a deterrent.                                                                              
REPRESENTATIVE HOLMES  asked whether a person  starting a vehicle                                                               
fire that  then burns  out of control  and causes  further damage                                                               
could be charged with other crimes as well.                                                                                     
LIEUTENANT DIAL said it is  possible, though such instances would                                                               
have to be  addressed on a case-by-case basis.   For example, the                                                               
types  of other  crimes that  might  be charged  would depend  on                                                               
whether someone gets  injured as a result of  setting the vehicle                                                               
on fire.                                                                                                                        
REPRESENTATIVE  HOLMES  asked whether  they  need  to include  an                                                               
exemption in the bill for training exercises.                                                                                   
MR. LUCKHAUPT,  in response to  the earlier question,  noted that                                                               
it is a  misdemeanor to start or  know of a fire and  allow it to                                                               
escape; that  in some instances,  in addition to a  jail sentence                                                               
and a  fine, civil damages could  also be sought from  the person                                                               
[starting] the fire;  and that there is  another criminal penalty                                                               
that  could accrue  to  someone starting  a  fire on  undeveloped                                                               
land, but it wouldn't apply to vehicle fires.                                                                                   
CHAIR  RAMRAS, after  ascertaining  that no  one  else wished  to                                                               
testify, closed public testimony on HB 268.                                                                                     
2:15:35 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE DAHLSTROM moved to report  HB 268 out of committee                                                               
with  individual  recommendations  and  the  accompanying  fiscal                                                               
notes.   There being no objection,  HB 268 was reported  from the                                                               
House Judiciary Standing Committee.                                                                                             

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