Legislature(1997 - 1998)

03/07/1997 01:32 PM JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
    SENATOR PEARCE , sponsor of the measure, said SB 3 establishes a           
 uniform approach to handling curfew violations for those                      
 communities that wish to enact a curfew ordinance.  Recently, the             
 City of Juneau attempted to enact a youth curfew but found no                 
 avenue to prosecute offenders.  SB 3 mandates that all juvenile               
 curfew violations be handled in District Court, with a parent or              
 legal guardian present during the proceedings.  SB 3 will allow for           
 more effective and expeditious handling of these offenses.                    
  SENATOR PEARCE  added Juneau is fortunate to have Judge Froehlich            
 who has taken it upon himself to spend a great deal of time on                
 youth cases, particularly alcohol and drug offenses.  Judge                   
 Froehlich estimates about 75 percent of the young people out after            
 Juneau's proposed curfew time are the group who end up as the more            
 serious alcohol, drug and tobacco offenders.  He believes                     
 communities need all of the tools available to handle youth                   
 intervention as early as possible.                                            
  SENATOR PEARCE  explained SB 3 has a fiscal note from the Court              
 System because it calls for court hearings for curfew violators.              
 She noted the Municipality of Anchorage (MOA) has proposed an                 
 amendment to allow for a community work option if the offender                
 cannot afford to pay a fine, or if the parents choose not to pay              
 the fine.  The amendment is permissive, because a recent court                
 decision requires that a youth offender who is sentenced to a                 
 certain amount of community work has the right to a jury trial.               
 She was unsure whether youth courts can be used in place of a jury            
  SENATOR ELLIS  asked whether the fiscal note accounts for the                
 amendment.   SENATOR PEARCE  said she would provide the committee             
 with an updated fiscal note.   SENATOR ELLIS  asked Mr. Christensen           
 to speak to the assumption in the fiscal note that no municipality            
 will criminalize curfew violations.                                           
 CHRIS CHRISTENSEN , Alaska Court System, stated last year the MOA             
 adopted an ordinance making curfew violations a civil offense and             
 issued 1500 citations.  Those cases are currently being handled by            
 a municipal hearing officer.  Offenders have the right to appeal              
 those cases to a court, but a $750 bond is required, and so far               
 there has only been one appeal.  Currently cities cannot                      
 criminalize curfew violations, because only the Division of Family            
 and Youth Services (DFYS) can prosecute juveniles.  SB 3 adds                 
 curfew infractions to the list of crimes for which minors can be              
 prosecuted.  SB 3 raises two issues:  are curfews good public                 
 policy; and how will this policy affect the court system.  He                 
 explained Alaska is one of only five states with a fully unified              
 court system meaning the state courts do everything.  Other states            
 have city and county courts.  Therefore when municipalities create            
 a crime by ordinance, that crime is prosecuted in the state courts.           
 Sometimes the Legislature has passed laws giving municipalities the           
 right to take actions, and they have done so in a much more                   
 expansive way than the Legislature expected.  He gave the example             
 of the MOA's authority to enact traffic ordinances and its use of             
 a photo-radar operation which resulted in an increase of 8,000                
 traffic tickets in one year.  Those tickets cannot be paid by mail            
 and require interaction with the court system.  No one guessed the            
 fiscal impact MOA's action would have.                                        
  MR. CHRISTENSEN  explained the fiscal note for SB 3 contains a               
 conservative estimate of 3,000 curfew violations, since some of the           
 violators will simultaneously receive an underage drinking ticket.            
 Although SB 3 allows municipalities to treat curfew violations as             
 misdemeanors as well as infractions, he prepared the fiscal note              
 assuming municipalities will not charge curfew offenders with                 
 misdemeanors because they will be required to provide a public                
 defender and the court system will have to provide a six person               
 jury.  Most infractions are on bail schedules, and most people pay            
 them by mail or at the counter.  Also problematic is that SB 3                
 allows municipalities to demand that curfew offenders make a court            
 appearance, even if the curfew violation is treated as an                     
 infraction.  He suggested, if it is not the committee's intent to             
 treat curfew violations as misdemeanors and/or to force the                   
 offenders to make a court appearance, that SB 3 be amended to read            
 the offenses should be treated as infractions and should be on the            
 municipality's bail schedule.  With respect to the court decision             
 (Booth v. State) referred to by Senator Pearce, a 1995 appeal was             
 based on a law authorizing judges to impose mandatory work service            
 for felonies and misdemeanors, but not for infractions.  The Booth            
 decision requires if the sentence for a crime is mandatory, not               
 optional, community service, the person has the right to a jury               
 trial and a public defender.                                                  
 Number 153                                                                    
  SENATOR PEARCE  clarified on page 1, line 18 of the amendment,               
 community service is clearly provided as an option.                           
  SENATOR ELLIS  asked Senator Pearce if it is her intent to require           
 offenders to make a court appearance.   SENATOR PEARCE  believed it           
 best to have the option to require a court appearance if those                
 involved feel it will be useful for a particular child to go before           
 a judge.  It has had a positive impact in Juneau.                             
 Number 123                                                                    
  SENATOR ELLIS  questioned whether a municipality would have to apply         
 the same policy to all offenders, or whether offenders could be               
 treated differently based on circumstances.   MR. CHRISTENSEN                 
 replied a municipality could choose to, for example, put first                
 offenders on a bail schedule, and have second offenders make a                
 court appearance.  He repeated the court system's fiscal note is              
 based on the assumption that all municipalities will not require a            
 court appearance, so it contains a conservative estimate.  He added           
 with infractions on the bail schedule, the court sees only about              
 one-third of the offenders.                                                   
  SENATOR PEARCE  stated her intent is to provide another tool for             
 local governments, and she hopes they would not throw all cases               
 into the court system, but instead would take advantage of this               
 tool for second offenders.  She said she is open to ideas as to how           
 to best accomplish that goal.  She felt the court system's fiscal             
 note is not outrageous, especially if SB 3 keeps one minor out of             
 jail for one year.                                                            
  SENATOR ELLIS  noted his support of the amendment, but inquired              
 whether it was requested by the Anchorage Assembly.   SENATOR PEARCE          
 responded it was not.  Assemblyman Murdy expressed support of the             
 bill but she introduced it in response to Juneau's situation.                 
 Assemblyman Murdy requested that community work be an option                  
 because in some instances parents refuse to pay the fine and there            
 is no way to force the child to do anything as an alternative.                
 Number 076                                                                    
  SENATOR ELLIS  asked if it is safe to assume the Anchorage Assembly          
 has no objection to the approach in SB 3.   SENATOR PEARCE  said no           
 one has expressed objection.  She added she has had no indication             
 that the MOA will rush to criminalize curfew violations.                      
  SENATOR ELLIS  questioned whether a parent will be compelled to be           
 present during a court hearing under SB 3.   MR. CHRISTENSEN  said            
 the language in the bill regarding the presence of parents is in              
 existing law.  It is current practice with minor traffic                      
 violations, among others, but does cause problems because cases               
 often have to be held over because someone cannot attend.                     
 Number 046                                                                    
  SENATOR ELLIS  asked for more detail on the practical application of         
 that provision.   MR. CHRISTENSEN  offered to provide Senator Ellis           
 with more information at a later date.                                        
 TAPE 97-18, SIDE A                                                            
 Number 000                                                                    
  STEVEN GRUENSTEIN , representing Guardians for Family Rights,                
 testified in favor of SB 3.  Teenagers need limits, quick                     
 consequences, and early intervention, when they step out of line.             
 SB 3 will prevent jail time in many cases.  He supports the                   
 community service option and a system with teeth.                             
  SENATOR MILLER  offered Amendment 1.  There being no objection to            
 the adoption of Amendment 1, it was so ordered.                               
  SENATOR PEARCE  repeated her willingness to entertain suggestions            
 for improvements or alternatives to SB 3, but stated her belief               
 that early intervention is less costly than incarceration.                    
  SENATOR PARNELL  moved SB 3 as amended from committee with                   
 individual recommendations.  There being no objection, the motion             

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