Legislature(2011 - 2012)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)
03/21/2011 01:30 PM JUDICIARY
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 7-FELONS' RIGHT TO VOTE OR BE JURORS 2:15:31 PM CHAIR FRENCH announced the consideration of SB 7. 2:15:43 PM TOM OBERMEYER, Staff to Senator Davis, sponsor of SB 7, informed the committee that currently the right to vote remains suspended from the date of a felony conviction to the date of release from all provisions of the sentence, including probation and parole. Harsher sentencing laws have allowed the prison population to balloon, while rehabilitative programs have been reduced to near nonexistence. Section 1.12 of the Alaska Constitution requires that criminal administration shall be based upon the philosophy of reformation. He stated that in 2009 more than 10,000 Alaskans were ineligible to vote pursuant to this provision. In Alaska the prison population increased from 800 prisoners in 1984 to over 5,000 prisoners in 2008, an increase of over 600 percent. Of those incarcerated in Alaska, 48 percent were Caucasian and 52 percent were minorities. MR. OBERMEYER said that felons face discrimination as they try to reenter society. Restoring the right to vote is critical to successful reentry into society after incarceration and is consistent with the modern ideal of universal suffrage. He added that SB 7 would limit disenfranchisement to those actually incarcerated, and would give felons the right to vote upon release. Felon disenfranchisement standards rest on outdated practices, and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Marshall said it is doubtful that any state could demonstrate a compelling interest in denying felons the right to vote. 2:24:15 PM SENATOR PASKVAN asked if he had followed up on the idea posed in the previous committee of returning voting rights only to those people who had successfully completed probation. MR. OBERMEYER responded that he would check on it, but it's not an issue he'd dealt with in the past. CHAIR FRENCH asked if he'd read or seen anything indicating that giving felons the right to vote upon release reduces recidivism. 2:26:19 PM MR. OBERMEYER answered yes; information in the packet from the 2004-2005 Columbia Human Rights Law Review indicates a bivariate relationship between voting and subsequent arrest and incarceration. The percentage of voters and non-voters in 1996 were compared to arrests and incarcerations in 1997-2000. The contrasts showed statistically significant differences between those who participated in the 1996 election and those who did not participate. Giving felons the right to vote will arguably help to stem recidivism, he stated. He noted that the bill picked up a finance committee referral after it was reported from the previous committee. The Department of Corrections (DOC) now indicates that this legislation will create a significant increase in workload, specifically in the Division of Probation and Parole. It is no longer seen as a simple issue of transferring data between divisions. 2:29:55 PM CHAIR FRENCH asked if someone who was charged with a probation violation could exercise the right to vote while in jail pending adjudication. MR. OBERMEYER said he sees no reason that that they should lose that privilege until they are convicted and reenter prison. CHAIR FRENCH pointed out that the presumption of innocence doesn't quite attach when it's a probation revocation. SENATOR COGHILL said it would be interesting to hear from DOC about the numbers of parole and probation violations because this could create quite a paper trail. 2:32:13 PM CHAIR FRENCH asked if the Department of Corrections (DOC) had taken a position on the bill. MR. OBERMEYER said he didn't know, but the fiscal note reflects the concern that there would be more work. CHAIR FRENCH noted that an audience member indicated that the department has taken no position on the bill. He announced he would hold SB 7. MR. OBERMEYER said this bill has been introduced several times before and in that time many states have made changes in voting arrangements for released prisoners. CHAIR FRENCH said he respects Senator Davis's persistence; she obviously feels strongly about the issue.