Legislature(2007 - 2008)BELTZ 211

03/12/2008 01:30 PM JUDICIARY

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Heard & Held
Heard & Held
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
Moved CSSB 164(JUD) Out of Committee
Moved HB 165 Out of Committee
           HB 268-MOTOR VEHICLE ARSON ON PUBLIC LAND                                                                        
2:36:50 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR FRENCH announced the consideration of HB 268.                                                                             
BEN MULLIGAN, staff  to Representative Bill Stoltze,  said HB 268                                                               
establishes  that intentionally  starting  a fire  or causing  an                                                               
explosion that  damages a motor vehicle  is a class C  felony. He                                                               
explained  that  the legislation  was  suggested  by a  community                                                               
where on average a dozen vehicles are burned each year.                                                                         
2:37:58 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI asked if the community would be Jim Creek.                                                                 
MR. MULLIGAN said that's correct,  but according to testimony and                                                               
discussion  before the  House Judiciary  Committee vehicle  arson                                                               
occurs in other  areas of the state as well.  The bill was vetted                                                               
through the departments  of public safety and law as  well as the                                                               
Jim Creek community.                                                                                                            
CHAIR FRENCH asked  if the bill differentiates between  a new car                                                               
and a junked vehicle.                                                                                                           
MR. MULLIGAN  replied they're  treated the  same way  because the                                                               
hazard that the arson creates is the same.                                                                                      
CHAIR  FRENCH asked  how much  of  the car  has to  burn for  the                                                               
statute  to  come into  play.  For  example,  would it  apply  to                                                               
setting a tire on fire.                                                                                                         
2:40:14 PM                                                                                                                    
MR. MULLIGAN suggested he ask  Trooper Dial, but he imagines that                                                               
it  would mean  the entire  car since  statute describes  a motor                                                               
vehicle  as  one  that's  registered by  the  Division  of  Motor                                                               
Vehicles (DMV).                                                                                                                 
SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI  suggested getting  a legal  opinion because                                                               
his interpretation  is different. Noting that  he's seen vehicles                                                               
that have been damaged with  bats, tire irons and shotgun blasts,                                                               
he asked why the bill is limited to intentional damage by fire.                                                                 
MR.  MULLIGAN explained  that fires  and  explosions affect  more                                                               
than  just the  vehicle. The  hazard potentially  extends to  the                                                               
public, first responders, and the habitat.                                                                                      
SENATOR THERRIAULT  asked for a  definition of motor  vehicle. He                                                               
questioned whether it would have to  have two axles, tires and be                                                               
capable of  self propulsion. Referring to  previous questions, he                                                               
said  he wasn't  sure if  the Chair  was trying  to differentiate                                                               
between a part of a car or a BMW versus a junk car.                                                                             
CHAIR FRENCH said  he has concern about making it  a felony crime                                                               
to  damage a  junked car.  For  example, kids  could face  felony                                                               
charges for  having built  a campfire  against an  already junked                                                               
car. "We  may want to think  about making certain that  there's a                                                               
certain level  of damage done to  the car." The bill  talks about                                                               
"damages" without  placing any limitation on  the significance of                                                               
the damage.                                                                                                                     
SENATOR THERRIAULT  observed that  the Chair  wants to  make sure                                                               
this   doesn't  capture   the  bonfire   that's   set  to   roast                                                               
2:42:53 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR   FRENCH  acknowledged   he's  thinking   about  the   more                                                               
insignificant  instances  that  could provoke  a  felony  charge,                                                               
which is a very serious charge to face.                                                                                         
SENATOR THERRIAULT  commented that it's  strange that if  he were                                                               
to torch his own car on  public property it'd be a felony charge,                                                               
but if he were  to do the same thing on his  own property it'd be                                                               
MR. MULLIGAN clarified that the  bill was introduced to address a                                                               
problem in  the sponsor's  district that  was occurring  on state                                                               
and  municipal  land.  If  it should  be  addressed  for  private                                                               
property the sponsor could look at that.                                                                                        
SENATOR  THERRIAULT  said he  understands  the  problem the  bill                                                               
targets and he's  sympathetic, but he just wants  to make certain                                                               
this is the right approach.                                                                                                     
2:44:06 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI asked  if it's not already a  class C felony                                                               
to  burn  someone's  car  because  it  would  be  destruction  of                                                               
property worth more  than $500. The question was  deferred to Lt.                                                               
CHAIR FRENCH asked Mr. Mulligan if he had anything to add.                                                                      
MR. MULLIGAN  pointed out that  the bill talks  about intentional                                                               
damage  so intent  must be  proved.  For that  reason he  doesn't                                                               
believe that someone  who builds a bonfire  that accidently burns                                                               
a vehicle would be prosecuted under this bill.                                                                                  
2:45:09 PM                                                                                                                    
DAVID  TYLER,  State  Fire  Marshal,   thanked  the  sponsor  for                                                               
addressing  the   problem  of  burning  abandoned   and  derelict                                                               
vehicles. The bottom  line is that it's  hazardous to firefighter                                                               
safety, he  said. Not much thought  is given to these  fires, but                                                               
they can be  very hazardous. Front shock absorber  bumpers can go                                                               
off  like grenades  and fuel  tanks can  explode. Another  hazard                                                               
that's  created  is wild  land  fires.  None  have gotten  to  be                                                               
serious  large  fires  yet,  but  it's just  a  matter  of  time.                                                               
Abandoned  and burned  vehicles can  be  found on  the Chena  Hot                                                               
Springs Road, Steese  Highway, and the dike on  the Tanana River.                                                               
Sometimes the  vehicles are towed  out and torched as  a disposal                                                               
2:47:35 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR FRENCH asked  how often this occurs and if  the typical car                                                               
is  nice and  has been  stolen  and torched  for fun,  or an  old                                                               
beater that's torched for a different kind of fun.                                                                              
MR.  TYLER  estimated  that  fire  departments  in  the  Interior                                                               
respond  to vehicle  fires between  20 and  30 times  a year;  he                                                               
didn't have  numbers for the  entire state. The cars  are usually                                                               
older  and  abandoned. Sometimes  they're  torched  to conceal  a                                                               
2:48:23 PM                                                                                                                    
BRIT  LIVELY, Butte  resident,  stated support  for  HB 268.  She                                                               
addressed previous questions about the  kind of vehicles that are                                                               
burned, whether  there should be  an exception for  partial cars,                                                               
or  incidental burnings  from campfires.  According  to the  fire                                                               
department,  junk vehicles  are  usually towed  or  hauled in  on                                                               
trucks.  Sometimes they're  filled  with extra  tanks or  propane                                                               
bottles so  that when  they're torched  the explosion  is bigger.                                                               
But newer cars that were stolen  in Anchorage are also hauled out                                                               
and torched.  Recently a body  was discovered  in a car  that had                                                               
been  torched a  year earlier,  allegedly it  was a  drug-related                                                               
murder.  In another  instance  a  van load  of  stolen tires  was                                                               
torched in a wooded location close to her house.                                                                                
MS.   LIVELY  said   she  is   one  of   the  people   who  asked                                                               
Representative  Stoltze to  introduce this  legislation. Although                                                               
some may think  a class C felony  for burning a car  is "over the                                                               
top",  HB 268  is the  solution for  keeping the  Butte community                                                               
safe from  this ongoing  year-round problem,  she said.  Prior to                                                               
approaching   the  sponsor,   Butte  residents   consulted  state                                                               
troopers, emergency  services, the  local fire department,  and a                                                               
volunteer  legal   professional.  The  consensus  was   that  the                                                               
troopers  didn't have  the tools  to deter  this activity  in the                                                               
state even  though this has been  an ongoing problem for  over 25                                                               
years. In  the 90s the National  Guard gathered up the  wrecks in                                                               
the  Knik  River   Valley  and  Jim  Creek   area  and  dedicated                                                               
volunteers disposed of the  monstrosities. However, this activity                                                               
has been  accelerating and  it's endangering  local firefighters,                                                               
contaminating  woods and  waterways, placing  homes and  lives in                                                               
danger, and  giving the  area a  reputation that  contradicts the                                                               
values and  standards of its  residents. "In our opinion  HB 268,                                                               
making car burnings  a class C felony crime, will  not jam up the                                                               
legal system, but will serve  as a powerful deterrent for misfits                                                               
including  gang members  and car  thieves who  currently seem  to                                                               
enjoy their  dangerous and destructive  pursuits." Also,  it will                                                               
reassure residents  and public land  users that when  they report                                                               
these deeds  the authorities  will have the  tools to  arrest and                                                               
prosecute these  offenders. "HB  268 is an  easy fix  to convict,                                                               
but it is even a more easy fix to deter," she said.                                                                             
2:55:59 PM                                                                                                                    
MARTY  QUASS, resident  of the  MatSu Borough,  said he  strongly                                                               
supports HB 268.  He lives on the Knik River  and has a panoramic                                                               
view  of the  public use  area under  discussion. Over  the years                                                               
he's had  occasion to  call 911  to report  car burnings  and the                                                               
typical response has been that  resources aren't available and so                                                               
nothing can be  done. It's time to change that,  he said. One day                                                               
the woods will go up in  flames and the Butte area residents will                                                               
have a major calamity on their hands.                                                                                           
CHAIR FRENCH observed that this behavior  could be made a class A                                                               
felony crime  and it's doubtful  that it would do  anything about                                                               
the manpower shortage that troopers and police face statewide.                                                                  
2:57:50 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR FRENCH  asked Lt. Dial  why vehicle burning isn't  a felony                                                               
criminal mischief.                                                                                                              
RODNEY DIAL,  Lieutenant, Alaska  State Troopers,  explained that                                                               
it's not  a crime to damage  your own vehicle, but  it's criminal                                                               
mischief  to  damage  another  person's  property.  In  some  car                                                               
burnings it's possible to charge  criminally negligent burning as                                                               
well,  but when  someone damages  their own  vehicle on  state or                                                               
public land  there isn't  much that law  enforcement can  do. The                                                               
ability  to  take  some  enforcement action  is  one  reason  the                                                               
troopers support  HB 268. He added  that a class C  felony allows                                                               
the court to  assess a wide range of sentencing  options, from no                                                               
time at all and suspended imposition  of sentence, up to a couple                                                               
of years in prison.                                                                                                             
CHAIR FRENCH set HB 268 aside for a subsequent hearing.                                                                         

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