Legislature(1997 - 1998)

04/09/1997 06:09 PM FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
txt
       SB 60  ADVISORY VOTE ON CAPITAL PUNISHMENT                              
                                                                               
       SENATOR TAYLOR testified on behalf of the bill.  DUDLEY                 
       SHARP   testified   in   support  via   teleconference.                 
       Testimony opposed to SB 60 was heard from CATHY KAINER,                 
       HUGH FLEISCHER, BARBARA HOOD, JAMES MCCOMAS, SUSI GREGG                 
       FOWLER, CHARLES CAMPBELL, BARBARA BRINK and  JOSH FINK.                 
       Information  was provided  by  MARGOT  KNUTH.   SENATOR                 
       ADAMS MOVED Amendment  #1.   COCHAIR SHARP and  SENATOR                 
       TORGERSON objected.   Amendment #1 FAILED  by a 6 to  1                 
       vote.    SENATOR  ADAMS MOVED  Amendment  #2.   SENATOR                 
       TORGERSON objected.   Amendment #2 FAILED  by a 6 to  1                 
       vote.   SENATOR TORGERSON  MOVED SB  60 from  committee                 
       with individual recommendations  and a previous  fiscal                 
       note from  the Division  of Elections  (3.0).   COCHAIR                 
       SHARP and SENATOR  ADAMS objected.  SB 60  was REPORTED                 
       OUT by a 6 to 1 vote,  with a previous fiscal note from                 
       the Division of Elections (3.0).                                        
  SENATE BILL NO. 60                                                           
  "An  Act  providing for  an advisory  vote  on the  issue of                 
  capital punishment."                                                         
                                                                               
  SENATOR  ROBIN  TAYLOR,  Sponsor  of  SB 60,  addressed  the                 
  committee.   He stated  the bill  was intended  to seek  the                 
  advise  of  Alaska  voters  on  the controversial  issue  of                 
  capital punishment.   Passage of the  bill would not  impose                 
  the death penalty, it would place on the ballot the question                 
  of whether the legislature should enact a capital punishment                 
  law.    SENATOR  TAYLOR  continued  by reading  his  sponsor                 
  statement.                                                                   
                                                                               
  SENATOR ADAMS commented  that the sponsor knew  his position                 
  on  the death  penalty.  It  did not deter  crime, it killed                 
  innocent  people, and  discriminated against  minorities and                 
  the  poor.   He  drew attention  to  Amendment #1  which was                 
  before members, commenting that voters should know the cost,                 
  similar to the Frank Initiative.  He invited individuals who                 
  would be testifying  to comment on  the amendment.   SENATOR                 
  TAYLOR responded briefly, commenting that the death  penalty                 
  was a warning  and a deterrent to a class  of offenders that                 
  would offend again.   He added that there was  no protection                 
  for corrections officers who guard people who have committed                 
  multiple  homicides.     He  opposed  the  Frank  Initiative                 
  approach,  as it's  only purpose was  to kill the  bill.  He                 
  said  there was  no known  basis for  determining cost,  but                 
  suggested  Mr. Sharp,  available  via teleconference,  could                 
  speak to it.                                                                 
                                                                               
  COCHAIR  SHARP called  for teleconference  testimony, asking                 
  witnesses to summarize their comments rather than getting in                 
  a long debate over the pros and cons of the bill.                            
                                                                               
  DUDLEY  SHARP, Vice  President,  Justice for  All,  Houston,                 
  Texas, testified next.  He brought up the issue of financial                 
  analysis,  having  reviewed  the fiscal  note.    Texas, the                 
  leading  executioner  in  the  nation,  had daily  costs  of                 
  incarceration of  death row prisoners at $54 per day because                 
  most of the inmates work.  He referred to capital cost for a                 
  death house in the fiscal note  and commented that Texas did                 
  not  even  build one,  they just  converted  a room  into an                 
  execution  facility.    He   supported  having  two  defense                 
                                                                               
                                                                               
  attorneys for each case  as advised in the fiscal note.   An                 
  additional item not  taken into consideration was  where the                 
  fiscal  note  speculates  an average  of  ten  years between                 
  sentence and  execution.  He stated that  it totally negated                 
  the efforts made at the state  and federal level to restrict                 
  abuse of the writ of habeas  corpus.  He rebutted an earlier                 
  statement that there was no evidence  that the death penalty                 
  deterred  crime.   He  stated that  the  moral decision  was                 
  whether  to save  or sacrifice  innocent  lives.   MR. SHARP                 
  summarized that the fiscal note  needed additional work, the                 
  death penalty  would save  innocent lives,  deter crime  and                 
  provide  additional punishment  for an  additional crime  of                 
  murder.                                                                      
                                                                               
  The  following  individuals  testified  from  Anchorage  via                 
  teleconference.                                                              
                                                                               
  CATHY KAINER spoke  in opposition to  the bill.  She  stated                 
  the death penalty cost more than life imprisonment and cited                 
  sources.  She believed the sponsor  was asking the public to                 
  vote on their opinion on a  subject on which they have  very                 
  little knowledge,  particularly the  cost.   She stated  the                 
  death penalty experiment was  failing in all 38 states  that                 
  have it and that states  without the death penalty generally                 
  had lower murder rates.   Texas and Florida, the  two states                 
  with  the highest  number  of executions,  had  some of  the                 
  highest murder rates in  the country.  A 1995  national poll                 
  of  police chiefs  revealed that  they did  not  believe the                 
  death penalty was effective in fighting crime.                               
                                                                               
  HUGH FLEISCHER testified in opposition to  SB 60.  He stated                 
  the bill  was an  abdication of  the  responsibility of  the                 
  legislature by putting it before the  public for a vote.  He                 
  believed the costs must be provided,  citing a figure of $50                 
  million.                                                                     
                                                                               
  BARBARA HOOD opposed SB 60.  She encouraged the committee to                 
  insure that any debate  on the death penalty be  an informed                 
  debate, but the legislation did nothing to insure that.  She                 
  gave an example from a New York poll  that showed 57 percent                 
  of respondents believed the death penalty would deter crime,                 
  yet a study of  executions over the past century  found that                 
  murders  rose  in the  months following  an execution.   She                 
  stated that it  didn't cost  less to execute.   Many  states                 
  spend six times more to execute than  to keep them in prison                 
  for life.                                                                    
                                                                               
  COCHAIR SHARP invited testimony from those present in Juneau                 
  next.                                                                        
                                                                               
  JAMES MCCOMAS, President, Alaskans Against the Death Penalty                 
  (AADP), Anchorage, testified that there were five reasons to                 
  vote no on  an advisory vote.  First, there was no reason to                 
  have  the death penalty, it wouldn't be cheaper, deter crime                 
                                                                               
                                                                               
  or make it safer.   Second, the results of an  advisory vote                 
  would  represent  public  misinformation   because  Alaskans                 
  didn't know much  about the issue.   He cited statistics  to                 
  support  his  statement.   Third,  it was  the legislature's                 
  responsibility to stop bad  public policy and not put  every                 
  controversial issue before a public  advisory vote.  Fourth,                 
  an advisory vote meant politics, not policy, would determine                 
  whether or not  we have the  death penalty.   Fifth, a  vote                 
  could only establish  popularity of  the issue, it  couldn't                 
  change  any of  the facts,  costs or  effect on crime.   MR.                 
  MCCOMAS added that in territorial  days, 75 percent of those                 
  executed  were Native  Alaskans  or African-Americans,  even                 
  though they only  committed 25 percent  of the murders.   He                 
  summarized that it  would be applied  to the poor, it  would                 
  result in  mistaken convictions  and widen  the gap  between                 
  diversities thereby polarizing  society.   In response to  a                 
  question from SENATOR  ADAMS, he believed disclosure  of the                 
  cost was important.                                                          
                                                                               
  SUSI GREGG FOWLER of Juneau stated that fear was a motivator                 
  for people to support an idea  like the death penalty.   The                 
  legislature  was  in  a  position  to give  people  accurate                 
  information.    The  real  cost  was  in  human  energy  and                 
  resources  in  defining sides.    MS. FOWLER  testified that                 
  recently members of  her husband's  family were murdered  in                 
  another state.   She wanted the  killer caught, but did  not                 
  want a death penalty  because it would not bring  healing or                 
  restore the lost lives.  She did not want people to kill for                 
  her.                                                                         
                                                                               
  End SFC-97 #91, Side 1, Begin Side 2                                         
                                                                               
  CHARLES  CAMPBELL  of  Juneau  testified  that he  was  past                 
  director of Corrections and had 45 years  in that field.  He                 
  stated there was  overwhelming consensus  that there was  no                 
  proof that the death penalty had a deterrent effect.  It may                 
  have an opposite effect  according to the 1969 study  of New                 
  York previously  mentioned which postulated  that publicized                 
  executions were  inclined to incite  persons predisposed  to                 
  violent crime.  MR. CAMPBELL believed the death penalty  was                 
  destructive  to  families  of  victims  because  it  delayed                 
  closure by an average of eleven years.  He urged a no vote.                  
                                                                               
  SENATOR ADAMS inquired if MR. CAMPBELL knew why the American                 
  Bar Association was asking for the termination of executions                 
  in the  United States.   MR.  CAMPBELL responded that  there                 
  were four reasons cited as to why the death penalty was  not                 
  working.   One  had to  do  with unmistakable  racial  bias,                 
  another  was  failure  of the  defendants  to  have adequate                 
  representation.  There was additional discussion about other                 
  options that could be provided on an advisory vote.                          
                                                                               
  The presence of COCHAIR PEARCE was noted.                                    
                                                                               
                                                                               
  BARBARA  BRINK,  Acting   Public  Defender,  Department   of                 
  Administration, testified next regarding the fiscal note she                 
  submitted that detailed what would be anticipated.  She also                 
  spoke to the use of an advisory ballot to ascertain majority                 
  opinion.   She expressed concern with allowing a policy vote                 
  by  the  general  public because  majority  opinion  did not                 
  necessarily  make  good public  policy,  citing  slavery and                 
  school segregation as  examples.   In addition, an  advisory                 
  vote could  create  a more  difficult  position  politically                 
  because the  legislature could  determine the  death penalty                 
  was not good  for the state.  She urged  the legislature not                 
  to  encourage the public  set to criminal  policy and called                 
  this the most  complicated criminal justice issue  any state                 
  could grapple with.                                                          
                                                                               
                                                                               
  MS. BRINK continued her testimony  with an explanation about                 
  the  fiscal note.   She said that it  dealt with the average                 
  rather  than  the anomalous  case.   The  Department  of Law                 
  predicted ten cases per year.   She concluded her remarks by                 
  saying the fiscal  note was rather conservative  and stating                 
  her  opinion that  the  public  be  informed of  the  fiscal                 
  impact.  She  believed it would cost a lot of money for very                 
  little in  return and urged  that it not be  proposed to the                 
  public as if it were a viable alternative.                                   
                                                                               
  COCHAIR SHARP inquired  who requested the fiscal note.   MS.                 
  BRINK responded that  it originated  from the Department  of                 
  Administration.    There  was  brief  discussion  about  the                 
  indeterminate nature of the fiscal note.                                     
                                                                               
  SENATOR ADAMS  asked for  examples of  the  average cost  of                 
  execution in  other states.   MS.  BRINK responded  that the                 
  cost in North Carolina was $2.16 million per execution above                 
  the cost of  life imprisonment.   In California, it was  $90                 
  million annually, $78  million of which was the  trial level                 
  cost.  Florida had 18 executions between 1973 and 1988 for a                 
  cost of  $3.2 million  each.   Texas was  estimated at  $2.3                 
  million, about three  times the  cost of life  imprisonment.                 
  SENATOR DONLEY questioned the cost comparisons and MS. BRINK                 
  acknowledged that each state counts costs differently.                       
                                                                               
  JOSH FINK, AADP,  testified against the  bill.  He made  the                 
  point that  it was a  complex and  multi-faceted issue  that                 
  should  be decided by  the legislature because  Alaska was a                 
  representative  democracy,  not  a  direct  democracy.    An                 
  advisory vote was a  bad idea because  it would be based  on                 
  fear,  anger  and  misinformation thereby  hamstringing  the                 
  legislature and limiting options.  He pointed out that there                 
  had been numerous issues facing the state for years but they                 
  had not  been put  to an  advisory vote.   SENATOR  PHILLIPS                 
  noted that there  had been  advisory votes on  a few  issues                 
  such  as  a  unicameral legislature,  the  capital  move and                 
  longevity bonus annuities.                                                   
                                                                               
                                                                               
  MARGOT KNUTH, Assistant Attorney General, Department of Law,                 
  was available for questions.  She  noted that there had been                 
  no loss of  lives in Alaska  institutions in response to  an                 
  earlier comment.                                                             
                                                                               
  SENATOR  TAYLOR  made   a  few   statements  regarding   the                 
  testimony.  He  was disturbed  by comments regarding  racial                 
  bias in the system and said it was a myth.  He cited studies                 
  that supported his  statement.   SENATOR ADAMS rebutted  his                 
  comments,  stating   that  documentation   showed  that   in                 
  territorial Alaska 75 percent of  those executed were Alaska                 
  Natives.   SENATOR  TAYLOR did not  dispute the  numbers but                 
  commented  that  it  was only  three  or  four  people.   He                 
  reiterated his point that all the legislation was asking for                 
  was an advisory opinion.                                                     
                                                                               
  COCHAIR SHARP announced  that after a brief  recess, COCHAIR                 
  PEARCE would reconvene the meeting and take up the operating                 
  budget close-outs, after which he  would continue with SB 60                 
  and other scheduled bills.                                                   
                       Recess at 7:19 P.M.                                     
                     Reconvene at 7:30 P.M.                                    
  SENATE BILL NO. 60                                                           
  "An  Act  providing for  an advisory  vote  on the  issue of                 
  capital punishment."                                                         
                                                                               
  A small portion of  the meeting was not recorded  because of                 
  technical error.  The following was taken from log notes.                    
                                                                               
  SENATOR ADAMS moved Amendment #1  and offered an explanation                 
  that the  amendment would  include costs  of implementing  a                 
  death penalty along with the advisory vote.                                  
                                                                               
  SENATOR TORGERSON objected.  There was brief discussion.                     
  A roll call  vote was taken on the MOTION to adopt Amendment                 
  IN FAVOR: Adams                                                              
  OPPOSED: Parnell, Donley, Phillips, Torgerson, Pearce, Sharp                 
  Amendment #1 FAILED by a vote of 1 to 6.                                     
                                                                               
  End of log notes.                                                            
                                                                               
  SENATOR  ADAMS   MOVED  Amendment  #2.    SENATOR  TORGERSON                 
  objected.  SENATOR ADAMS explained  that the amendment would                 
  give  voters  a  choice  of  alternatives  besides  a  death                 
  penalty.                                                                     
                                                                               
  A roll call vote was taken on  the MOTION to adopt Amendment                 
  IN FAVOR: Adams                                                              
  OPPOSED: Torgerson, Parnell, Phillips, Donley, Pearce, Sharp                 
  Amendment #2 FAILED by a 6 to 1 vote.                                        
                                                                               
  SENATOR PHILLIPS expressed his problem with people's opinion                 
  that they  didn't trust the people of  the state to be smart                 
  enough to  make a decision  with an advisory  vote.  He  had                 
  more faith in  the people of  Alaska and believed they  were                 
  intelligent enough  to make  the right  choice.   Additional                 
  discussion followed regarding constituent polls on the death                 
  penalty.                                                                     
                                                                               
  SENATOR TORGERSON MOVED SB 60 from committee with individual                 
  recommendations and a previous fiscal note from the Division                 
  of  Elections  (3.0).    COCHAIR  SHARP  and  SENATOR  ADAMS                 
  objected.  SENATOR ADAMS spoke to  his objection.  There was                 
  discussion about including  costs on the proposition  and in                 
  educational pamphlets.   SENATOR PARNELL  stated that  there                 
  was no way to write a  ballot proposition that contained all                 
                                                                               
                                                                               
  the costs involved.                                                          
                                                                               
  A roll call vote was taken on the MOTION.                                    
  IN  FAVOR:  Torgerson,  Donley,  Phillips, Parnell,  Pearce,                 
  Sharp                                                                        
  OPPOSED: Adams                                                               
  SB 60  was REPORTED OUT  by a 6 to  1 vote, with  a previous                 
  fiscal note from the Division of Elections (3.0).                            

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