Legislature(1997 - 1998)
03/25/1997 09:03 AM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 3 MINOR'S CURFEW VIOL. HEARD IN DIST. CT. COCHAIR PEARCE, Sponsor, testified on behalf of the bill. Testimony was also heard from CAPT. TED BACHMAN and MARGOT KNUTH. SENATOR ADAMS MOVED Amendment #1. A vote was taken and Amendment #1 FAILED by a vote of 4 to 2. COCHAIR PEARCE MOVED CSSB 3(JUD) from committee with individual recommendations and accompanying fiscal notes. Without objection, CSSB 3(JUD) was REPORTED OUT with a previous fiscal note from the Court System (24.3), previous fiscal notes from the Departments of Administration (indeterminate) and Health and Social Services (indeterminate), and a zero fiscal note from the Department of Public Safety. COCHAIR PEARCE, Sponsor, brought up a news item in Juneau last fall, in which the Assembly put a curfew aside because they found they had no avenue to prosecute offenders. She read the Sponsor Statement relating to SB 3 (copy on file). Following is an excerpt of the first and last paragraphs: "Currently, juvenile offenses other than traffic, tobacco, fish and game, parks and recreational facilities, or alcohol violations, are handled through municipal courts where these exist, or are not handled at all because of the Division of Family and Youth Services caseload. SB 3 will mandate that all juvenile curfew violations be handled in District Court. Alaska Delinquency Rules will not apply, and the minor accused of the offense will be charged, prosecuted, and sentenced in the District Court in the same manner as an adult. When a minor is charged, prosecuted and sentenced for an offense under this subsection, the minor's parent, guardian, or legal custodian will be present at all proceedings." COCHAIR PEARCE pointed out the Judiciary CS was before the committee. She stated there was a "quilt of ability" for juveniles to be handled in court in the state. Some judges take a more active interest at the juvenile level, one of whom was Judge Froehlich of Juneau, who sets aside Friday afternoons for juvenile cases. He was aggressive in prosecuting violations of alcohol and tobacco and informed her that the lion's share of people he has seen on those charges would also come before him on a curfew violation. Her intention was to give communities the tools they need to intervene in children's problems before they become large. If they can be stopped with a curfew violation, young people could be diverted from a life in the corrections system. COCHAIR PEARCE mentioned the Court System fiscal note of $24 thousand, stating they were not sure how many cases they might see. Anchorage might choose to go with an ordinance and start prosecuting their curfews at the district court level rather than at the municipal level. Section 2 was a suggestion from Anchorage Assemblyman Joe Murdy which would allow the option for community work in place of fines. The reason it was permissive was based on a recent case in which the judge decided if a youth was sentenced to community work, it was the sort of sentence that should have a jury trial. She wanted to make sure the cases didn't automatically go to a jury trial, so it was made permissive. In some Anchorage cases the parents of the offender were unwilling to pay the fine. She was hopeful that between parental and court pressure they could get young people to do community service to work off their fine. In response to a question from SENATOR PHILLIPS, COCHAIR PEARCE did not recall receiving a position paper from the Anchorage Municipality, but did receive one from Juneau. She acknowledged the idea came from the assembly. SENATOR ADAMS brought up a proposed amendment for the committee's consideration. His understanding was that SB 3 mandates that juvenile curfew violations be handled in district courts and the minor would be charged, prosecuted and sentenced in the same manner as an adult. It would shift the burden for municipal violations from municipal hearing officers to state district court. The juvenile would get a criminal record and potential jail time. He believed it was a municipal rather than a state problem. Criminal records should not belong to a youth that makes a mistake with curfew violations. His proposal came from the Governor's Youth and Justice working group as a recommendation. He reiterated that curfew violations should be a civil rather than a criminal issue, a policy issue they must decide at the table. He wanted to keep the fines to a maximum of $250. COCHAIR PEARCE responded to a question by SENATOR PHILLIPS by stating that SB 3 would not affect the Anchorage ordinance. They could choose to change it and use the district court system, but they presently have their own system. The main problem is in Juneau and other communities without their own court system and ability to prosecute curfew offenders. She acknowledged that the Department of Health and Social Services approached her about the amendment proposed by SENATOR ADAMS. She believed the department did not have the manpower to handle all the young people and questioned the fiscal impact of the amendment. The presence of SENATOR PARNELL was noted. SENATOR PHILLIPS questioned if the legislation was assuming responsibility for local government and adding more to the state budget. He also inquired why it was different from other ordinances around the state. He then agreed with SENATOR ADAMS' point that it had a different attitude, that of a criminal record versus a fine. COCHAIR SHARP called for testimony from those on teleconference. CAPT. TED BACHMAN, Alaska State Trooper, deferred to Ms. Knuth, and asked to testify after her. MARGOT KNUTH, Assistant Attorney General, Department of Law, approached the committee. She outlined two special projects she had been working on this year. One had to do with the need for more prison beds and the other was trying to work on juvenile justice issues and keep facilities from being filled up. The governor recently sponsored a conference on youth and justice and asked a group of ninety citizens and experts around the state to look at the growing problem of juvenile crime and make recommendations on what could be done both at the local level and the state level. One of the most significant findings was that there was a gap in the system between doing almost nothing for minor offenses and "then landing with both feet" on juveniles who are committing the most serious offenses. A need for consistent, swift and certain consequences has been identified for the low level offenses. The problem with utilizing the statewide DHSS system is a growing population and decreasing budget, and they have been unable to do all and be all. The department has had to focus their energy on the serious offenders because of finite resources. MS. KNUTH testified that there were a number of communities who have identified their juveniles at risk of becoming criminal offenders and they wish to do something. The desire to work with low level offenders was taking different forms throughout the state depending on the nature of the community. She briefly described the Anchorage Court system in which they use a hearing officer, similar to a judge. The juvenile is cited and required to go before the hearing officer and be held accountable. In the small communities of Elim and Koyuk, they started a pilot project that enabled them to use a village court system, which was different than the hearing officer, but it focused on the same group of at- risk kids and created an authority figure who meted out appropriate consequences for juveniles. MS. KNUTH continued by stating the problem with SB 3 was fairly typical of the way the state has been trying to deal with those at risk of becoming offenders, which was to put it back on the state. It can be appropriate, but at the same time, a community response would be more appropriate and more likely to result in swift, certain and consistent consequences. She felt there was a need for systems that could be utilized. SENATOR ADAMS' amendment would increase the tools that could be used by communities, which was in the spirit of the need identified by COCHAIR PEARCE. MS. KNUTH described the proposed amendment. First, it created a possibility of civil penalties instead of criminal penalties for kids who are not criminals yet but are at risk. Rather than use the criminal system for them, it made more sense to use civil penalties. She noted "We've run into this problem of if the fine is too big or community work service is ordered, then it is treated like a criminal case and there is the right to a jury trial." The amendment reduces the fine from $1,000 to $250, which is something the Court of Appeals has identified as the cut-off level for a civil penalty. Section 2 would require that DHSS was notified of juveniles who are racking up civil penalties because they are the youth at risk of becoming serious offenders and they need some way to make sure there is a whole profile so they cannot escape. A significant problem now is there is no accountability or documentation to identify those at risk. Section 3, the civil penalties section, is what Anchorage is currently utilizing and wants to keep using. The municipal prosecutor had expressed concern that his workload would not allow more cases which would happen if they prosecuted in district court. The remaining sections of the amendment allow the department to delegate to communities the ability to respond to these low level offenses. That is what would create a formal system for the Elim and Koyuk agreement, the Mat-Su diversion panel, and some other systems used statewide. It would create a reporting mechanism so that DHSS doesn't lose track of those at risk of becoming chronic offenders. She believed that state government needed to be doing less and communities were asking to be empowered to do this work, so it seemed appropriate to create a new response level for kids at risk. CAPTAIN TED BACHMAN, Alaska State Trooper, testified next via teleconference from Anchorage. He added to Ms. Knuth's comments regarding the proposed amendment. One of his concerns was creating another subset of people who are prosecuted in adult court. He reiterated one of the findings of the governor's conference on juveniles that spoke against creating any more laws that would bring juveniles into adult court. He supported the accountability the amendment would create at the local level for the lower offenses. It provides another avenue that would help steer young people in the right direction. SENATOR ADAMS commented that he offered the amendment as a proposal to work with the sponsor. He felt it was good legislation but needed more work, communities need to be involved, and there was a middle ground that could be considered. COCHAIR PEARCE explained that the Judiciary Committee did look at the same idea, which had been offered by the HESS Committee. It was her feeling that a young person who faced a DHSS procedure is less likely to have an epiphany and decide they didn't want to be in that situation again than a person who had to face a judge. End SFC-97 # 69, Side 1 Begin SFC-97 # 69, Side 2 COCHAIR PEARCE continued with a discussion about unpaid fines resulting in court contempt problems and incarceration in a youth facility. That was the reason for adding the option of community service. She questioned whether DHSS could handle the workload that would be required by the amendment. After thinking through the proposal, she saw there were two directions to go, and she was more comfortable with the Judiciary CS version of the legislation. SENATOR ADAMS MOVED Amendment #1. COCHAIR PEARCE objected. A roll call vote was taken on the MOTION to adopt Amendment IN FAVOR: Phillips, Adams OPPOSED: Parnell, Torgerson, Pearce, Sharp And so, the MOTION FAILED (2-4). COCHAIR PEARCE MOVED CSSB 3(JUD) from committee with individual recommendations and accompanying fiscal notes. Without objection, CSSB 3(JUD) was REPORTED OUT with a previous fiscal note from the Court System (24.3), previous fiscal notes from the Departments of Administration (indeterminate) and Health and Social Services (indeterminate), and a zero fiscal note from the Department of Public Safety.