Legislature(2017 - 2018)HOUSE FINANCE 519
04/05/2017 01:30 PM House FINANCE
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|Confirmation Hearing: Alaska Mental Health Trust Board of Trustees|
* first hearing in first committee of referral
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HOUSE BILL NO. 127 "An Act relating to a permanent fund dividend for an individual whose conviction has been vacated, reversed, or dismissed; and relating to the calculation of the value of the permanent fund dividend by including payment to individuals eligible for a permanent fund dividend because of a conviction that has been vacated, reversed, or dismissed." 4:16:30 PM REPRESENTATIVE SCOTT KAWASAKI, SPONSOR, provided a brief overview of the legislation. He reminded the committee that the state relinquished incarcerated Alaskans rights to their Permanent Fund Dividends (PFD). He elaborated that the legislation provided the PFD to Alaskans whose convictions were vacated, reversed, or dismissed. If passed, those eligible must apply for the PFD within 120 days following the new judgment or within 120 days of the effective date of the bill. He believed that the state providing PFD's to individuals wrongfully convicted helped them reestablish a normal life. It was incumbent upon the legislature to recognize the injustice. He pointed out that last year that state had the highest number of individuals with overturned convictions that were wrongly incarcerated. Co-Chair Foster stated that Vice-Chair Gara would act as a stand-in chair of the meeting. 4:19:34 PM Co-Chair Foster OPENED Public Testimony. 4:19:39 PM APRIL MONROE, SELF, FAIRBANKS (via teleconference), spoke in favor of the legislation. She shared that she had done a lot of advocacy work on the issue. She stressed that it would be a travesty to deny a person their dividend because of a wrongful conviction. She could not imagine anyone opposing the legislation. 4:21:22 PM BARBARA BRINK, ALASKA INNOCENCE PROJECT, ANCHORAGE (via teleconference), spoke in favor of HB 127. She thanked the co-sponsors of the bill. She shared that she was the volunteer president of the project's board and relayed her extensive career involving indigent criminal defense as a state and federal public defender attorney over the last 35 years. She elucidated that under the current law a person lost eligibility for the PFD if sentenced or were incarcerated for a felony conviction. The bill was "stating the obvious" for individuals found not guilty, or when convictions were vacated or reversed, or charges were dismissed. The legislation recognized that a person should be eligible for the PFD under the stated conditions. She provided an example of a person found not guilty after being convicted of a DUI who could have his driver's license reinstated. She emphasized that the legislation continued to right a wrong and let "truth and justice" prevail. The measure was not a compensation bill or a punitive damage claim. She offered the example of Texas that statutorily provided $80 thousand for each year a person was imprisoned due to a wrongful conviction. She thanked the committee. 4:25:06 PM Representative Thompson wondered whether a vacated conviction still carried the felony conviction. Ms. Brink remarked that the language was tricky. She responded that a vacated sentence did not infer innocence but a vacated conviction lead to a re-trial or dismissed charges. Dismissed charges or acquittal meant that the person was innocent and not convicted of a crime. Representative Thompson noted that a portion of inmates PFD's went to their healthcare while incarcerated and the remainder to victim's compensation. He wondered whether the money spent on healthcare would be deducted from the PFD money the person now qualified for. Ms. Brinks responded that the PFD had not been issued for medical costs and that was a common misconception. The person was completely disqualified from receiving their PFD while in prison. Representative Thompson relayed that he had heard from the Victims Compensation Board and Department of Corrections (DOC) that they applied for the PFD in lieu of the convicted individual and a percentage was divided among the inmate's health care and victim's compensation. He wanted further clarification. Representative Wilson indicated that Representative Thompson was correct and the percentage that DOC received was used collectively for all inmates medical prison costs. Vice-Chair Gara did not believe that wrongly convicted individuals could be compensated enough for the injustice. 4:29:41 PM MARVIN ROBERTS, SELF, FAIRBANKS (via teleconference), spoke in support of HB 127. He was one of the "Fairbanks Four" who had been wrongfully incarcerated for 18 years. He thanked all of the legislators who supported the bill. He indicated that the result of the bill would go a long way to help him and his family and all wrongfully convicted individuals. Vice-Chair Gara sincerely apologized for what happened. 4:31:17 PM CRYSTAL SISTO, SELF, FAIRBANKS (via teleconference), spoke in favor of HB 127. She related that she was close to one of the "Fairbanks Four." George Frese, one of the four, was the father of Ms. Sisto's daughter, who lost her father and his emotional and financial support 18 years ago when she was 3 years old. She suggested that the PFD money would substantially help Mr. Frese rebuild his life and reconnect with his family which presently included grandchildren. She relayed her daughters support for the bill and informed the committee that she had lost faith in the system from her experience. She urged support for the bill. 4:33:17 PM MISTY NICKOLI, SELF, FAIRBANKS (via teleconference), spoke in support of HB 127. She shared that she had advocated for the Fairbanks Four and that George Frese was her cousin. She offered that she was struggling to reconcile her sense of belonging and trust with the judicial system. The PFD was unjustly confiscated from the four and she felt the bill was one step toward reestablishing justice and equity. 4:35:20 PM SCHERRY BYERS, SELF, FAIRBANKS (via teleconference), urged support for HB 127. She relayed that she was a licensed clinical social worker and worked in bush villages since 1984. She spoke of sadness and frustration that the effort to prove the four's innocence took over $1 million in pro bono attorney work and intense community support. She wanted people to truly understand that "everyone knew that the four were not guilty." She recounted that the four men were just graduating high school at the time of their wrongful conviction and were robbed of their opportunities to develop work and career lives. She felt that was a very significant part of the story unrelated to the PFD issue. She added that at least three out of the four were Alaska natives. She believed that the PFD money was rightfully theirs. She thought that if the legislation did not pass people would keep fighting the issue. Vice-Chair Gara remarked that Representative Kawasaki was educating his fellow legislators about the issue. 4:39:12 PM EVAN EADS, SELF, FAIRBANKS (via teleconference), supported HB 127. He spoke of an event he attended on behalf of the Fairbanks Four. He stated that the event was moving for the attendees and for the four men themselves. He thought the bill was a small gesture: returning something that was unjustly confiscated. He thought it was not a partisan issue and supported passage of the bill. 4:41:17 PM MARNA SANFORD, TANANA CHIEFS CONFERENCE, FAIRBANKS (via teleconference), supported HB 127 and advocated for post- conviction release reform. She agreed with all of the previous testifiers. She thought the bill was a "no brainer." She appreciated Representative Kawasaki's support and urged for passage of the bill. 4:43:21 PM VIRGINIA MCCARTY, SELF, FAIRBANKS (via teleconference), supported HB 127. She relayed that she had no specific testimony. KATHLEEN PETERS ZURAY, SELF, TANANA (via teleconference), stated her and her husband's support and urged members to support HB 127. She wanted to see the PFD's restored to the four wrongfully convicted men. 4:45:11 PM Vice-Chair Gara CLOSED Public Testimony for HB 127. HB 127 was HEARD and HELD in committee for further consideration.