Legislature(1999 - 2000)

01/22/1999 01:30 PM JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
                SB 4-OFFICE OF VICTIMS' ADVOCACY                                                                                
SENATOR HALFORD noted that this same legislation passed the Senate                                                              
last session and came very close to passing the House.                                                                          
Number 185                                                                                                                      
MR. BRETT HUBER, staff to SENATOR HALFORD, presented the bill as a                                                              
mechanism for the application of the Victims' Rights Amendment                                                                  
passed in 1994. The bill establishes an office to assist crime                                                                  
victims in obtaining the rights guaranteed to them under the                                                                    
Victims' Rights Amendment. MR. HUBER said that too often victims                                                                
are left to deal with a complex judicial system heavily weighted to                                                             
the benefit of criminals; SB 4 would provide these victims a                                                                    
knowledgeable advocate. MR. HUBER stressed that this bill would not                                                             
negate the duty of the prosecutor's office nor preclude the need                                                                
for organizations such as Victims' for Justice.                                                                                 
MS. CHARLOTTE PHELPS, a victims' advocate, expressed her support                                                                
for SB 4 and described her own experience as a victim. MS. PHELPS                                                               
explained that often a victim is re-victimized by the judicial                                                                  
Number 240                                                                                                                      
MS. ANNE CARPENETI, representing the criminal division of the                                                                   
Department of Law, expressed the department's concern for crime                                                                 
victims and said the department favors legislation that helps                                                                   
MS. CARPENETI also communicated the concerns of the department in                                                               
regard to SB 4. MS. CARPENETI stated that she believes the                                                                      
department already makes a good effort to deliver services to crime                                                             
victims and the involvement of another attorney as a victims'                                                                   
advocate might somehow hinder prosecution of a case. MS. CARPENETI                                                              
brought forth an amendment to deal with this possibility and wished                                                             
to include the deletion of "crime victims and" on page 6, line 26.                                                              
MS. CARPENETI suggested that this would ensure victims could                                                                    
exercise their rights to free speech.                                                                                           
MS. CARPENETI said this bill allows an advocate to speak on behalf                                                              
of a victim if the victim so wishes. MS. CARPENETI remarked that                                                                
the victim is the best person to speak on his or her own behalf and                                                             
the advocate likely would not be more compelling than the district                                                              
attorney. MS. CARPENETI said the department has no objection to                                                                 
increasing the limits on violent crimes compensation but hopes it                                                               
will not be to the detriment of other programs.                                                                                 
Number 329                                                                                                                      
SENATOR HALFORD moved the text brought forward by MS. CARPENETI,                                                                
along with the suggested deletion of "crime victims and" on page 6,                                                             
line 26 as Amendment #1.                                                                                                        
SENATOR TORGERSON objected to ask MS. CARPENETI for an example of                                                               
how an advocate might discourage a victim from cooperating with the                                                             
prosecution. MS. CARPENETI explained that in certain cases, such as                                                             
domestic violence, victims may not wish to testify. MS. CARPENETI                                                               
said the department does not force victims to testify in such cases                                                             
and merely proceeds without their testimony. She stressed that the                                                              
advocate would want to be very careful not to discourage the                                                                    
victim's testimony. SENATOR TORGERSON commented that the whole                                                                  
issue seems vague to him. MS. CARPENETI replied the department                                                                  
would be willing to work on the language in order to make this                                                                  
provision more explicit.                                                                                                        
Number 369                                                                                                                      
SENATOR HALFORD noted that the word "could" in this provision seems                                                             
somewhat broad and might be better replaced with "would." MS.                                                                   
CARPENETI agreed that might be better.                                                                                          
SENATOR TORGERSON asked what the consequences would be if an                                                                    
attorney violated this provision. MS. CARPENETI admitted an                                                                     
advocate is appointed for five years and it would likely depend on                                                              
how serious the violation was.                                                                                                  
Number 395                                                                                                                      
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR concluded that a conflict of interest could arise                                                               
in cases where the victim is also a suspect. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR noted                                                              
some distinctions between perpetrator and victim tend to blend in                                                               
certain situations and this might create a very difficult position                                                              
for the advocate in advising a victim of his or her rights.                                                                     
Number 441                                                                                                                      
MS. KAREN JOHNSTON testified via teleconference from Anchorage in                                                               
favor of SB 4. MS. JOHNSTON recounted her personal experience with                                                              
the judicial process after the murder of her former husband. MS.                                                                
JOHNSTON asserted that victims desperately need information and                                                                 
open channels of communication in order to deal with their grief.                                                               
MS. LINDA TILLSWORTH spoke to the $50,000 cap on compensation for                                                               
the victims of violent crime. MS. TILLSWORTH remarked that her                                                                  
family, as  crime victims, can never be adequately compensated and                                                              
the (approximately) $50,000 they have received has not been                                                                     
sufficient to cover the counseling they need to restore their                                                                   
family to some degree of normalcy. MS. TILLSWORTH said compensation                                                             
levels should be increased.                                                                                                     
Number 533                                                                                                                      
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR thanked MS. TILLSWORTH for her efforts and assured                                                              
her that her hard work has made an impact.                                                                                      
MS. JANICE LEINHART, with Victims for Justice, remarked that she is                                                             
amazed that defendants in violent crime cases get an attorney and                                                               
victims do not. MS. LEINHART said currently victims' advocacy                                                                   
services are available in urban centers but not in rural Alaska.                                                                
MS. LEINHART stressed the victims' need to speak for themselves.                                                                
She did not know if there is a way to legislate this, but she knows                                                             
the value of this in the healing process. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR agreed                                                                
that it is very important for a victim to be able to express                                                                    
themselves and to be heard. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR explained that an                                                                   
advocate speaking on behalf of a victim somewhat dilutes the                                                                    
process and a victim speaking on his or her own behalf speaks                                                                   
better to the entire process.                                                                                                   
TAPE 99-2, SIDE B                                                                                                               
Number 583                                                                                                                      
MS. MONA MAEHARA, Acting Director of the Council on Domestic                                                                    
Violence and Sexual Assault (CDVSA), testified that CDVSA does not                                                              
oppose SB 4 and agrees with the concept. MS. MAEHARA stated that                                                                
there are currently 22 agencies across the state providing victims'                                                             
advocacy in addition to the victim/witness coordinators provided by                                                             
the Department of Law. Her concern is that a new victims' advocacy                                                              
service may compete for the limited state and federal resources                                                                 
currently available.                                                                                                            
Number 559                                                                                                                      
MS. SUSAN BROWNE, Administrator of the Violent Crimes Compensation                                                              
Board, thanked the committee and SENATOR HALFORD in particular for                                                              
the work on victims' rights issues. MS. BROWNE  reported that SB 4                                                              
will increase the statutory limit on compensation and therefore the                                                             
Violent Crimes Compensation Board shows a positive fiscal note. MS.                                                             
BROWNE commented that the section which allows an increase in                                                                   
compensation is difficult to understand. MS. BROWNE also noted SB
4 would require the board to adopt regulations, a new                                                                           
administrative task which would require time and some increase in                                                               
MS. BROWNE mentioned competition for funds is also a concern and                                                                
SENATOR HALFORD replied competition for funds is not the intent.                                                                
Number 523                                                                                                                      
SENATOR HALFORD modified his motion to include a technical change                                                               
to the proposed amendment: the change from "could" to "would".                                                                  
Without objection it was determined this was merely a technical                                                                 
amendment to Amendment #1 and the amendment was changed to "would".                                                             
SENATOR ELLIS asked about the $50,000 limit on compensation and MR.                                                             
HUBER explained SB 4 increases available compensation to $40,000 -                                                              
$50,000 in cases of homicide and $20,000 - $25,000 in other cases                                                               
and ties the level of compensation in the future to the Consumer                                                                
Price Index (CPI). SB 4 also increases the number of people who                                                                 
become ineligible for the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD), thus                                                                   
increasing the total pool of available funds.                                                                                   
Number 459                                                                                                                      
SENATOR ELLIS asked if this level of compensation is adequate and                                                               
realistic. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR replied that there is no way to                                                                      
compensate for the true loss to victims, the dollar amount of                                                                   
compensation is only a guideline for the board to follow and the                                                                
increase in the cap under SB 4 would be the first in many years.                                                                
SENATOR ELLIS stated he shares CHAIRMAN TAYLOR'S concern about the                                                              
distinction between suspects and victims. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR remarked                                                              
that the advocates that will be hired will have to walk a very fine                                                             
Number 423                                                                                                                      
SENATOR ELLIS asked if any other states are doing anything like                                                                 
this. MR. BRETT HUBER replied there is nothing specific regarding                                                               
the distinction between victims and suspects. MR. HUBER noted that                                                              
Alaska has a unique constitution in regard to victims' rights. He                                                               
added that the qualifications for becoming an advocate are the same                                                             
as those of a magistrate and require substantial experience with                                                                
the criminal justice system. SENATOR HALFORD concluded this                                                                     
distinction is a matter that must be left to the discretion of the                                                              
advocates since "under suspicion" is not a category that allows for                                                             
the removal of any constitutional rights.                                                                                       
Number 400                                                                                                                      
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asked if there was any objection to Amendment #1 as                                                             
modified. Hearing none, Amendment #1 passed.                                                                                    
Number 395                                                                                                                      
SENATOR HALFORD moved CSSB 4(JUD) out of committee with individual                                                              
recommendations. Without objection, it was so ordered.                                                                          

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