Legislature(1993 - 1994)

03/11/1993 08:00 AM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
  HB 119: AUTHORIZE USE OF DAY FINES IN MISD. CASES                            
  Number 405                                                                   
  CHAIRMAN VEZEY read the title of HB 119 and asked its                        
  sponsor, Representative Fran Ulmer for her comments.                         
  Number 410                                                                   
  REPRESENTATIVE FRAN ULMER, PRIME SPONSOR OF HB 119,                          
  explained the motivation of HB 119 was to deal with the                      
  increasing caseload in the courts and to alleviate prison                    
  overcrowding in Alaska.  She explained that under the system                 
  convicts would be fined based on their daily salary, no                      
  violent criminals would be considered under the program, and                 
  judges would have discretion when to employ day fines.                       
  Number 467                                                                   
  REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS asked what would happen to those with                 
  no daily income.                                                             
  Number 469                                                                   
  REPRESENTATIVE ULMER explained that permanent fund checks                    
  were always available for fine payments, and in most cases,                  
  people had some form of income that could be tracked down.                   
  She noted under the statute, the court could also levy fines                 
  against future earnings, while retaining the option of                       
  either jail time or probation.                                               
  Number 488                                                                   
  REPRESENTATIVE KOTT asked if the day fines' statute would                    
  apply for crimes with mandatory sentencing.                                  
  REPRESENTATIVE ULMER replied in the negative.                                
  Number 495                                                                   
  REPRESENTATIVE KOTT asked if the plan would discriminate,                    
  since many richer people would be able to walk free under                    
  the plan, while those with no money would not have the                       
  Number 500                                                                   
  REPRESENTATIVE ULMER deferred the question to the Alaska                     
  Court System's representative in attendance.                                 
  Number 505                                                                   
  SYSTEM, explained that the State Supreme Court supported the                 
  concept behind HB 119, saying it would give judges more                      
  sentencing discretion, which would alleviate prison                          
  crowding, and simultaneously bring in more money into the                    
  general fund.                                                                
  Number 520                                                                   
  CHAIRMAN VEZEY asked the number of misdemeanant days                         
  currently being served in Alaska prisons.                                    
  MR. CHRISTENSEN referred the committee to the Department of                  
  Corrections, noting inmates might not serve the entire                       
  sentence imposed by the court, since they might earn "good                   
  time" while in custody.                                                      
  Number 536                                                                   
  REPRESENTATIVE KOTT reiterated his question about rich                       
  people being able to walk away from prison, while poor                       
  people would not have the option to pay.                                     
  MR. CHRISTENSEN explained that under the current system, the                 
  highest misdemeanor fine was $5,000.  He noted judges tried                  
  to treat similar misdemeanants the same, which meant that                    
  most of the time, $250 fines were routinely handed out,                      
  since most people could afford that.  He explained that                      
  meant rich people were getting off far easier than they                      
  might under the day fine system.                                             
  Number 563                                                                   
  REPRESENTATIVE KOTT asked what would happen if other                         
  attachments were made to a misdemeanant's permanent fund                     
  MR. CHRISTENSEN explained a priority list for attaching                      
  permanent fund checks for court fines now exists.                            
  Number 582                                                                   
  REPRESENTATIVE KOTT asked if a system was already in place                   
  to impose day fine penalties.                                                
  MR. CHRISTENSEN explained a statute passed several years ago                 
  which prohibited the imposition of fines on an ability to                    
  pay basis, and several laws would have to be modified or                     
  Number 592                                                                   
  REPRESENTATIVE ULMER concurred with Mr. Christensen's                        
  assessment, and said a bigger problem was that the maximum                   
  fines in Alaska were low, and judges had little discretion                   
  in imposing them.                                                            
  Number 598                                                                   
  MR. CHRISTENSEN noted under the day fine system, a schedule                  
  to impose fines would be laid out, and the result would be a                 
  more equitable treatment of misdemeanants.                                   
  Number 605                                                                   
  CHAIRMAN VEZEY asked if misdemeanants had a right to trial.                  
  MR. CHRISTENSEN replied in the affirmative.                                  
  CHAIRMAN VEZEY then asked for an estimate on the cost of a                   
  misdemeanor trial.                                                           
  Number 612                                                                   
  MR. CHRISTENSEN did not have exact figures, but said the                     
  cost of an average trial would exceed the average                            
  misdemeanor fine of $250.                                                    
  CHAIRMAN VEZEY reminded Mr. Christensen of an old                            
  misdemeanor penalty that gave defendants the choice of a                     
  $250 fine or five days in jail, which had been struck down.                  
  He asked if day fines would encounter a similar fate.                        
  Number 631                                                                   
  MR. CHRISTENSEN said it would not, because the judge would                   
  have the penalty option, not the defendant.                                  
  Number 638                                                                   
  REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS asked if the fines would cover the                    
  costs to the court for instituting the program.                              
  MR. CHRISTENSEN said every estimate he had indicated the                     
  program would pay for itself.  In response to an earlier                     
  question by Chairman Vezey, he remembered the cost for a                     
  single trial was about $600.                                                 
  Number 653                                                                   
  REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS was concerned about poor people                       
  dragging out the process and trying to convince the court                    
  they were too poor to pay a fine.                                            
  Number 659                                                                   
  MR. CHRISTENSEN noted about 80% of the misdemeanant cases                    
  heard were defended by public advocates, and defendants were                 
  required to prove their indigence before those advocates                     
  could take their case.                                                       
  Number 675                                                                   
  REPRESENTATIVE ULMER asked the committee to examine the day                  
  fine report enclosed in their packets, which detailed                        
  Europe's use of day fines, and how the U.S., in contrast,                    
  had imprisoned more people than fining them.  She suggested                  
  fines would be far more cost effective than building new                     
  Number 693                                                                   
  REPRESENTATIVE G. DAVIS noted several other criminal justice                 
  related bills were in committee, and asked if an omnibus                     
  bill might be possible.                                                      
  TAPE 93-28, SIDE B                                                           
  Number 000                                                                   
  REPRESENTATIVE ULMER stated HB 119 was the most promising of                 
  the group of crime bills, and had the most immediate                         
  financial payback to the state.                                              
  Number 031                                                                   
  REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS asked for and received reassurances                   
  from Representative Ulmer that day fines would not be an                     
  option for sentencing in violent crimes.                                     
  Number 070                                                                   
  CHAIRMAN VEZEY noted the longtime problems with prison                       
  overcrowding and caseloads, and expressed his preliminary                    
  support for HB 119.                                                          
  REPRESENTATIVE KOTT, speaking as a member of the Sentencing                  
  Commission, agreed with Representative Ulmer that HB 119                     
  seemed to be the most promising bill to come out of the                      
  commission, and MOVED passage.  Without objections, HB 119                   
  was moved from committee by a unanimous vote.                                

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