Legislature(2009 - 2010)BELTZ 211

03/31/2009 09:00 AM STATE AFFAIRS

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Moved CSSB 158(STA) Out of Committee
Moved SB 68 Out of Committee
Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled
<Above Item Removed from Agenda>
                    ALASKA STATE LEGISLATURE                                                                                  
            SENATE STATE AFFAIRS STANDING COMMITTEE                                                                           
                         March 31, 2009                                                                                         
                           9:51 a.m.                                                                                            
MEMBERS PRESENT                                                                                                               
Senator Linda Menard, Chair                                                                                                     
Senator Kevin Meyer, Vice Chair                                                                                                 
Senator Hollis French                                                                                                           
Senator Joe Paskvan                                                                                                             
MEMBERS ABSENT                                                                                                                
Senator Albert Kookesh                                                                                                          
COMMITTEE CALENDAR                                                                                                            
SENATE BILL NO. 158                                                                                                             
"An Act relating to the return of property used as evidence to                                                                  
the owner."                                                                                                                     
     MOVED CSSB 158(STA) OUT OF COMMITTEE                                                                                       
SENATE BILL NO. 68                                                                                                              
"An Act relating to the voting rights of felons."                                                                               
     MOVED SB 68 OUT OF COMMITTEE                                                                                               
PREVIOUS COMMITTEE ACTION                                                                                                     
BILL: SB 158                                                                                                                  
SHORT TITLE: RETURN OF PROPERTY                                                                                                 
SPONSOR(S): SENATOR(S) DYSON                                                                                                    
03/20/09       (S)       READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRALS                                                                        
03/20/09       (S)       STA, JUD                                                                                               
03/31/09       (S)       STA AT 9:00 AM BELTZ 211                                                                               
BILL: SB  68                                                                                                                  
SHORT TITLE: FELONS' RIGHT TO VOTE                                                                                              
SPONSOR(S): SENATOR(S) DAVIS                                                                                                    
01/21/09       (S)       READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRALS                                                                        
01/21/09       (S)       STA, JUD, FIN                                                                                          
03/31/09       (S)       STA AT 9:00 AM BELTZ 211                                                                               
WITNESS REGISTER                                                                                                              
SENATOR FRED DYSON                                                                                                              
Alaska State Legislature                                                                                                        
Juneau AK                                                                                                                       
POSITION STATEMENT: Presented SB 158.                                                                                         
ANNIE CARPENETI, Criminal Division                                                                                              
Department of Law                                                                                                               
Juneau AK                                                                                                                       
POSITION STATEMENT: Discussed SB 158.                                                                                         
SENATOR BETTYE DAVIS                                                                                                            
Alaska State Legislature                                                                                                        
Juneau AK                                                                                                                       
POSITION STATEMENT: Presented SB 68.                                                                                          
LYNDA ZAUGG, Staff                                                                                                              
to Senator Davis                                                                                                                
Alaska State Legislature                                                                                                        
POSITION STATEMENT: Presented SB 68.                                                                                          
DWAYNE PEEPLES, Deputy Commissioner                                                                                             
Department of Corrections                                                                                                       
Juneau AK                                                                                                                       
POSITION STATEMENT: Answered a question on SB 68.                                                                             
MARGARET PUGH                                                                                                                   
Juneau AK                                                                                                                       
POSITION STATEMENT: Spoke in support of SB 68.                                                                                
JEFFREY MITTMAN, Executive Director                                                                                             
American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska                                                                                        
Anchorage AK                                                                                                                    
POSITION STATEMENT: Spoke in support of SB 68.                                                                                
PETER MCKAY                                                                                                                     
Kenai AK                                                                                                                        
POSITION STATEMENT: Spoke in support of SB 68.                                                                                
ACTION NARRATIVE                                                                                                              
9:51:46 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR LINDA MENARD called the Senate State Affairs Standing                                                                   
Committee meeting to order at 9:51 a.m. Senators French,                                                                        
Paskvan, Meyer, and Menard were present at the call to order.                                                                   
                   SB 158-RETURN OF PROPERTY                                                                                
9:52:33 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR MENARD announced the consideration of SB 158.                                                                             
SENATOR FRED  DYSON, Alaska State  Legislature, said a  friend of                                                               
his runs a  boat building shop. Two people came  in and said they                                                               
wanted to buy  a boat. Later, almost $45,000  worth of electronic                                                               
equipment disappeared.  The owner found  two thirds of  his goods                                                               
in hock  shops and on internet  sales. The police picked  up much                                                               
of it, which led them to  the perpetrators. The shop owner had to                                                               
repurchase similar  equipment because the stolen  items were held                                                               
as evidence. State  law allows that the  evidence be photographed                                                               
for use  in court. That  often doesn't happen. Senator  Dyson has                                                               
spoken   with  prosecutors,   district   attorneys,  and   police                                                               
officers. Due  to the high  volume of these  low-priority crimes,                                                               
the property is often not returned in a timely fashion.                                                                         
9:55:31 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR DYSON  said state  law is  adequate in  this area;  it is                                                               
just a problem  of emphasis and streamlining the  process. SB 158                                                               
attempts  to facilitate  getting  property back  to the  rightful                                                               
owner without disturbing the legal process.                                                                                     
CHAIR  MENARD  said the  bill  allows  60  days after  the  final                                                               
disposition of the case.                                                                                                        
SENATOR  FRENCH said  this  seems  to be  a  good idea.  Property                                                               
owners can be  inconvenienced for a long time. The  bill puts the                                                               
decision  in the  right agency.  "You  let the  cops decide  when                                                               
they're through  with it.  That may give  some people  pause, but                                                               
they're the people  who we've charged with enforcing  the law and                                                               
... beginning the process of prosecution,  so it looks ... like a                                                               
good idea."  He asked  if there are  supportive letters  from the                                                               
police, union, or the administration.                                                                                           
9:57:12 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR DYSON said no, but  Annie Carpeneti is available from the                                                               
Department of Law.  He has also talked with  police and troopers,                                                               
but he has  no letters in hand.  He has been told  that a defense                                                               
attorney  has  to  agree  for  the  evidence  to  leave  custody.                                                               
Sometimes  the  defense  won't  allow  it  in  efforts  to  throw                                                               
roadblocks in the way of the prosecution.                                                                                       
9:58:07 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  FRENCH  said  he  doesn't   know  about  that.  Pretrial                                                               
evidence may be needed but  not crucial. The defense attorney may                                                               
have to give permission to give something back to the victim.                                                                   
ANNIE CARPENETI,  Criminal Division,  Department of  Law, Juneau,                                                               
said  she understands  that victims  want to  get their  property                                                               
back.  The  state  has  a  duty  to  preserve  evidence  that  is                                                               
discoverable by  the defense. If that  is not done, the  state is                                                               
sanctioned,  which  can  include dismissing  the  prosecution  or                                                               
telling  the jury  to  presume  that the  evidence  would not  be                                                               
favorable to the defense. "We  are working under some constraints                                                               
as to  ... the constitutional  right to discovery of  evidence by                                                               
the defense."  Police need  to consult with  the defense  and the                                                               
prosecution  before  returning  property.  The way  the  bill  is                                                               
drafted makes  it look like  the police could make  that decision                                                               
on their  own. Most  would still  consult but  "we would  like to                                                               
make it  clear that  they would."  It doesn't  say when,  it just                                                               
says before 60 days after the  case is completed. It is important                                                               
to keep evidence to meet discovery obligations under the law.                                                                   
SENATOR FRENCH asked what "final  disposition of the case" means.                                                               
Is that the exhaustion of all appellate opportunities?                                                                          
MS.  CARPENETI  said yes.  These  days  that  date is  not  clear                                                               
because  of   post-conviction  relief   and  appeals.   The  more                                                               
important the case, the longer it goes.                                                                                         
10:01:12 AM                                                                                                                   
SENATOR  FRENCH asked  Ms. Carpeneti  if  she has  a phrase  that                                                               
should  be  added so  that  law  enforcement  must speak  to  the                                                               
prosecution and defense before releasing property.                                                                              
MS. CARPENETI  said on  line 9, after  "determines" add  ", after                                                               
consulting the prosecuting authority and the defense,".                                                                         
SENATOR FRENCH moved  Conceptual Amendment 1 as  stated above, as                                                               
long  as it  comes back  as  a draft  amendment from  legislative                                                               
legal services. Hearing no objection,  Conceptual Amendment 1 was                                                               
SENATOR  DYSON  said  the  next  committee  of  referral  is  the                                                               
judiciary. This committee  should decide that the bill  is in the                                                               
public  interest  because  it  protects  victims  from  continual                                                               
victimization. The legal issue can be fixed in judiciary.                                                                       
10:02:53 AM                                                                                                                   
SENATOR  FRENCH said  the amendment  passed. If  the bill  leaves                                                               
state affairs, the language will appear in the next committee.                                                                  
SENATOR PASKVAN  said he concurs. The  prosecution will determine                                                               
the weight of the evidence. The amendment is appropriate.                                                                       
SENATOR DYSON  said he wants "to  bump this up as  a priority for                                                               
the prosecutors  and law  enforcement folks to  take care  of the                                                               
victim." Already they have to  get permission from the defense to                                                               
get  the evidence  released. Maybe  these changes  help do  that.                                                               
"I'm good," he concluded.                                                                                                       
10:04:28 AM                                                                                                                   
SENATOR MEYER moved to report  SB 158, as amended, from committee                                                               
with  individual  recommendations  and attached  fiscal  note(s).                                                               
There being no objection, CSSB 158(STA) moved out of committee.                                                                 
The committee took a brief at-ease.                                                                                             
                  SB  68-FELONS' RIGHT TO VOTE                                                                              
10:06:37 AM                                                                                                                   
CHAIR MENARD announced the consideration of SB 68.                                                                              
SENATOR BETTYE  DAVIS, Alaska State  Legislature, said  this bill                                                               
was heard in Senator French's committee last session.                                                                           
LYNDA ZAUGG,  Staff to Senator  Davis, Alaska  State Legislature,                                                               
read from the following sponsor statement:                                                                                      
          Across the country, states handle the right to                                                                        
     vote  for  returning  felons differently.  Two  states,                                                                    
     Maine and Vermont, do not  take away a felon's right to                                                                    
     vote.  Thirteen  states  allow   felons  to  vote  upon                                                                    
     release  from  incarceration.   Twenty  one,  including                                                                    
     Alaska, allow  felons to vote  after they  complete all                                                                    
     parole/probation  requirements,  while fourteen  states                                                                    
     permanently  disenfranchise  certain   felons.  If  our                                                                    
     belief is  that felons, once released,  have paid their                                                                    
     debt  to society,  returning their  right to  vote upon                                                                    
     release from incarceration would be a positive step.                                                                       
          SB   68   allows   felons,   upon   release   from                                                                    
     incarceration, to  register to  vote. This  bill starts                                                                    
     the  process  which  allows felons  to  start  assuming                                                                    
     responsibility for reintegration  in their communities.                                                                    
     We are  each responsible  for how our  government works                                                                    
     and  we  do  that  through  voting.  In  Alaska,  6,081                                                                    
     Alaskans  have  lost their  right  to  vote because  of                                                                    
     felony  convictions.  Currently,  Alaska law  bars  the                                                                    
     vote  to   persons  convicted  of  felonies   of  moral                                                                    
     turpitude until the  expiration of a post-incarceration                                                                    
     period  of parole  or probation,  which is  often years                                                                    
     after they have reentered  society to become productive                                                                    
     citizens and taxpayers.                                                                                                    
          Harsh sentencing laws over the past 30 years have                                                                     
     allowed   the  prison   population  to   balloon  while                                                                    
     reducing  the   rehabilitative  model  to   almost  non                                                                    
     existent.  Over  4.7  million Americans,  or  1  in  43                                                                    
     adults,  cannot vote  due to  felony convictions,  with                                                                    
     1/3 or  more of  them incarcerated  due to  alcohol and                                                                    
     drug offenses.  In Alaska, we  have gone  from slightly                                                                    
     over  800  prisoners  in  1984 to  5,344  in  2008,  an                                                                    
     increase  of  149  percent. Of  those  incarcerated  in                                                                    
     Alaska,  48  percent  are  Caucasian,  36  percent  are                                                                    
     Alaska  Native,  10  percent are  African  American,  3                                                                    
     percent are  Hispanic, and 3 percent  are Asian/Pacific                                                                    
     Islanders.   Minority  felons   are  disproportionately                                                                    
     disenfranchised nationally  under current law,  and the                                                                    
     harm   of  this   continued  disenfranchisement   after                                                                    
     release  is exacerbated  by stigma  and other  forms of                                                                    
     discrimination  as  they  try to  reenter  society.  In                                                                    
     Alaska, 52  percent of  our incarcerated  offenders are                                                                    
          In Alaska, we do not have a problem taking a                                                                          
     person off the  voting roles if convicted  of a felony,                                                                    
     but we  do not  have a  system that  will automatically                                                                    
     allow  them   to  return  to  the   voting  rolls  upon                                                                    
     termination of supervision. Voting  is just one of many                                                                    
     steps  a   returning  felon  must  make   to  become  a                                                                    
     productive  member of  the  community.  This bill  will                                                                    
     help provide  a clear time for  returning voting rights                                                                    
     and  provide   an  important   right/responsibility  to                                                                    
     felons returning to their communities.                                                                                     
10:11:26 AM                                                                                                                   
SENATOR MEYER asked how many people will be affected.                                                                           
MS. ZAUGG said the Division of Elections told her that 6,081                                                                    
couldn't vote because of felony convictions.                                                                                    
SENATOR MEYER said the bill states that the department will give                                                                
a person a written notification.                                                                                                
MS. ZAUGG said that with computers  it will be relatively easy to                                                               
have  an automatic  notice go  to  the division  when someone  is                                                               
discharged. It will  save a little time, and it  will insure that                                                               
it won't get overlooked.                                                                                                        
SENATOR MEYER noted the large  number of people, so he questioned                                                               
the zero fiscal note.                                                                                                           
MS. ZAUGG  said there  is no fiscal  impact because,  "in theory,                                                               
that's already occurring,  it's just staggered out  over a longer                                                               
period of time." A vast  majority have a five-year probation. Ms.                                                               
Zaugg  was a  probation  officer,  and she  sees  that staff  are                                                               
really focusing on  the next problem walking in  the door instead                                                               
of the person walking out. It can slip through the cracks.                                                                      
10:13:30 AM                                                                                                                   
SENATOR  MEYER asked  if  the intent  of  SB 68  is  that when  a                                                               
convicted felon leaves  prison, he or she has paid  the price and                                                               
should then be a voting citizen.                                                                                                
MS. ZAUGG said  this bill says that these people  have paid their                                                               
institutional  price.  One  of  the  goals  of  probation  is  to                                                               
reintegrate  people  into  society  without creating  a  risk  to                                                               
others.  To  be tied  to  society  they  need  to get  back  some                                                               
responsibilities, and voting is one.                                                                                            
SENATOR MEYER said  he doesn't disagree with that,  and the state                                                               
should start giving  back their PFDs because that  will help them                                                               
get their feet back on the ground.                                                                                              
CHAIR  MENARD said  she sees  this as  a dignity  bill. There  is                                                               
dignity  attached to  being able  to vote.  It extends  the olive                                                               
branch to people to promote their success.                                                                                      
SENATOR  PASKVAN asked  how many  people will  seek the  right to                                                               
vote annually.                                                                                                                  
10:15:40 AM                                                                                                                   
MS.  ZAUGG  said there  over  5,000  on supervised  probation  or                                                               
parole. There are probably 1,000 to 1,500 sentenced felons.                                                                     
SENATOR PASKVAN asked how many people will use this annually.                                                                   
MS. ZAUGG  said she doesn't  know because  the 6,081 were  on the                                                               
voting roles and taken off  when convicted. The bill is targeting                                                               
those who were registered to vote previously, she believes.                                                                     
10:17:24 AM                                                                                                                   
SENATOR DAVIS  said the  parole officer will  let them  know they                                                               
are  eligible to  vote.  It would  be  up to  them  to decide  to                                                               
SENATOR PASKVAN asked  if probation officers are  not now telling                                                               
those  who  complete  probation  that  they  have  the  right  to                                                               
register to  vote. What percentage  of people who  have completed                                                               
their incarceration and probation actually register?                                                                            
SENATOR DAVIS said she doesn't know.                                                                                            
10:19:16 AM                                                                                                                   
DWAYNE PEEPLES,  Deputy Commissioner, Department  of Corrections,                                                               
said in 2007 there were 2,700  people who would have fallen under                                                               
this bill.                                                                                                                      
MARGARET PUGH, Juneau,  said this is a national issue  and she is                                                               
glad  that Alaska  is one  of  the states  addressing it.  Voting                                                               
rights of felons are different  in every state. Some states never                                                               
take the right to  vote away from a felon, and  some take it away                                                               
and never give  it back. In a democracy, that  might not be good.                                                               
She believes that the denial of  voting rights is a vestige of an                                                               
earlier  period.  Illiterate people  or  those  who did  not  own                                                               
property were  once denied the  right to  vote. There was  a time                                                               
when  people couldn't  vote if  they didn't  pay a  poll tax.  We                                                               
don't do that any more. With  computers it will be simple to send                                                               
the list to the Division of  Elections. It is the right thing for                                                               
Alaska. Ms. Pugh is retired from the field of corrections.                                                                      
10:23:42 AM                                                                                                                   
JEFFREY  MITTMAN, Executive  Director,  American Civil  Liberties                                                               
Union of  Alaska, said  the ACLU  supports SB  68. A  majority of                                                               
Alaskans  who are  disenfranchised are  not in  prison; they  are                                                               
living in the  communities. There are a growing  number of states                                                               
limiting  the amount  of disenfranchisement,  "and  we hope  that                                                               
Alaska  joins their  ranks." Restricting  voting rights  does not                                                               
prevent   crime   or   provide  compensation   to   victims.   It                                                               
accomplishes the  opposite of what  the state should be  doing to                                                               
promote re-entry.  Those who vote after  release from supervision                                                               
are half  as likely to  be re-arrested. Alaska Natives  are about                                                               
31 percent  of the total disfranchised  population, although they                                                               
are only  about 15 percent  [of Alaska's population]. There  is a                                                               
disparate  racial  impact  of  disenfranchisement.  The  American                                                               
Probation  and Parole  Association resolved  that restoration  of                                                               
voting rights upon completion of  a prison sentence should occur,                                                               
and it advocates  no loss of voting rights  while on supervision.                                                               
The   National  Black   Police  Association   supports  automatic                                                               
restoration  of voting  rights upon  discharge. The  American Bar                                                               
Association  does not  support collateral  sanctions such  as the                                                               
deprivation  of  voting  rights, except  during  confinement.  He                                                               
suggested a change to the bill  of not requiring those who become                                                               
re-eligible to  vote to  provide proof  that they  have completed                                                               
their sentence. That  is an unnecessary obstacle  and a paperwork                                                               
issue.  Individuals  who   vote  are  more  likely   to  give  to                                                               
charities,  volunteer, attend  school  board  meetings, serve  on                                                               
juries,  be   interested  in  politics,  participate   in  public                                                               
demonstrations, and cooperate with  fellow citizens -- all things                                                               
that society wants former offenders to do.                                                                                      
10:27:17 AM                                                                                                                   
PETER MCKAY, Kenai,  said he is a  parent of a felon.  His son is                                                               
now on  parole. This  bill is  not being  driven by  lobbyists or                                                               
special interest  groups. Senator Davis should  be recognized for                                                               
bringing  this bill  on behalf  of  convicts, a  group without  a                                                               
voice.  This is  not a  large voting  block and  will not  have a                                                               
large impact  on elections, but  it is  a nice gesture  to former                                                               
convicts.  He supports  rehabilitation.  The correctional  system                                                               
can  do more  of  that.  If even  one  ex-felon  uses this  small                                                               
gesture and  doesn't reoffend,  or it  eases the  transition back                                                               
into society, then the state has  done the right thing. This bill                                                               
restores one of  our most important rights to  citizens, and they                                                               
are citizens, like you or me. He asked members to cosponsor it.                                                                 
SENATOR  MEYER  moved  to  report   SB  68  from  committee  with                                                               
individual  recommendations and  attached  fiscal note(s).  There                                                               
being no objection, SB 68 moved out of committee.                                                                               
10:30:02 AM                                                                                                                   
The meeting was adjourned at 10:30 a.m.                                                                                         

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