Legislature(1997 - 1998)

03/20/1998 09:08 AM HES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
                  SB 282 - CHILD ENDANGERMENT                                  
SENATOR JOHN TORGERSON, sponsor of SB 282, gave the following                  
overview of the legislation.  SB 282 was introduced on behalf of               
the Chief of Police of the City of Soldotna who is affiliated with             
the Police Chiefs' Association for the State of Alaska.  This bill             
changes the standard of proof in the statute related to child                  
endangerment from "intentionally" to "knowingly."  The intentional             
standard requires a higher standard of proof for prosecution.                  
Convictions of child endangerment have been successfully evaded,               
based on the argument that the offender was not intent on harming              
the child when he/she placed the child in dangerous circumstances.             
The term "knowingly" reduces the legal standard to an act in which             
a person knowingly places a child in a situation where harm could              
result, thereby making the person responsible for that action.                 
SENATOR TORGERSON explained SB 282 also contains new language                  
regarding conduct which creates a substantial risk of physical                 
injury.  This language is intended to apply to those situations in             
which a parent engages in conduct, such as alcohol consumption or              
drug use, that subsequently endangers the child.                               
Number 068                                                                     
SENATOR GREEN questioned whether the definition of "recklessly                 
engaged in conduct" could be expanded to something that might                  
already be illegal, such as driving with a child in the back of a              
truck, and whether it might be applied in ways that the sponsor did            
not intend.                                                                    
SENATOR TORGERSON said he was unsure, but that was not his intent.             
SENATOR GREEN expressed concern that the definition might be too               
open.  She suggested reviewing the definition in the legislation in            
the Senate Judiciary Committee.                                                
SENATOR TORGERSON clarified the section of the statute that is                 
being amended by SB 282 does not refer to other types of                       
endangerment, but it is possible that it could be applied to other             
Number 088                                                                     
SENATOR GREEN asked if SB 282 changes the penalty from a                       
misdemeanor to a class C felony.                                               
SENATOR TORGERSON said it does.                                                
SENATOR GREEN asked if a class C felony is punishable by up to five            
years in prison and a $50,000 fine, and whether that is the                    
sponsor's intent.                                                              
SENATOR TORGERSON said yes.                                                    
Number 101                                                                     
CHAIRMAN WILKEN asked Senator Torgerson if he could provide                    
examples of cases that police departments have encountered in the              
past to include in committee packets.                                          
SENATOR TORGERSON stated Shirley Warner, police chief of Soldotna,             
and the former Chief of Detectives for the Anchorage Police                    
Department, is very knowledgeable about the difference that                    
changing the standard will make in regard to child endangerment                
cases.  He stated Ms. Warner would be glad to share information on             
that subject.                                                                  
CHAIRMAN WILKEN said he thought examples to demonstrate the effect             
of this legislation will help the argument to enact it.                        
SENATOR GREEN asked Senator Torgerson if he sponsored SB 282 on                
behalf of the Police Chiefs' Association.                                      
SENATOR TORGERSON clarified that he sponsored it at Ms. Warner's               
request and that she brought it to the Police Chiefs' Association.             
He said he does not have a resolution from that association but he             
is aware that they discussed it and support it.                                
Number 125                                                                     
DIANA BUFFINGTON, State Coordinator for the Childrens' Rights                  
Council of Alaska, testified in favor of SB 282.  She stated SB 282            
is one the few bills that will have no room for misinterpretation              
or misuse by the Division of Family and Youth Services (DFYS).                 
Children are endangered when they are left alone in hotel rooms or             
in trash cans at young ages; these types of occurrences are ever               
increasing with young mothers.  She stated her organization is one             
of 34 chapters across the United States and it is very interested              
in health and welfare issues.  She repeated her wholehearted                   
support for SB 282.                                                            
BLAIR MCCUNE, Deputy Director of the Public Defender's Agency,                 
noted his agency submitted an indeterminate fiscal note on SB 282.             
The agency is concerned that the bill will have a significant                  
fiscal impact on the criminal justice system but it has not been               
able to devise hard numbers of potential cases at this time.  DHSS             
receives about 15,000 telephone reports of harm to children. Not               
all reports are confirmed.  Of the 15,000 reports, 4,312 of the                
callers alleged some type of physical abuse.  He suspected the                 
number of reports of harm would increase if the risk of physical               
injury becomes an offense.  Mr. McCune commented that current                  
criminal law defines physical injury as any type of pain or                    
impairment of physical condition.  In general, when a physical                 
injury is involved, as opposed to a serious physical injury, the               
offense is a misdemeanor.  He pointed out that SB 282 would be                 
inconsistent in that it makes the same type of offense a class C               
felony.  He repeated his concern that this bill might have a big               
impact on the criminal justice system.                                         
Number 170                                                                     
CHAIRMAN WILKEN indicated his intent to pass SB 282 on to the                  
Senate Judiciary Committee at which time Mr. McCune will have the              
opportunity to provide more accurate figures for the fiscal note.              
SENATOR WARD moved SB 282 out of committee with individual                     
recommendations and its accompanying fiscal notes.  There being no             
objection, the motion carried.                                                 

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