Legislature(1999 - 2000)
01/25/1999 01:35 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SJR 2-CONST. AM: PRISONER'S RIGHTS SENATOR DAVE DONLEY, prime sponsor of SJR 2, presented the bill to the committee and said this legislation proposes an amendment to the Alaska Constitution to be voted on in the next general election. The bill would amend article 1, section 12 of the Alaska Constitution to limit the rights of convicted prisoners in Alaska to those to which they are entitled under the United States Constitution. SENATOR DONLEY noted that the legislature passed a similar bill last year but that bill applied to the entire constitution and this bill affects only those rights which fall under a specific section of the constitution: article 1, section 12. SENATOR DONLEY said this amendment might affect the right of prisoners to have a say in the location of their incarceration and the individual right to access programs while incarcerated and may also give the State standing to revisit the Cleary decision. The Cleary settlement governs prison administration in Alaska and SENATOR DONLEY believes there is no basis for the decision in either state or federal constitutional law. Number 110 SENATOR DONLEY remarked that the Cleary decision removed any flexibility the State had in prison administration and SJR 2 would allow the case to be revisited, provided the Department of Law was willing to do it. More generally, SENATOR DONLEY proposed that this amendment may prevent untold future problems that could result from bad Supreme Court decisions. SENATOR DONLEY said as recently as 1997 the court has expanded prisoners' rights even in the face of clear evidence that was not the intent of Alaska's constitutional convention. SENATOR DONLEY concluded this bill does not deal with as many issues as last year's proposal did, but it is still a useful initiative to put before the voters. Number 186 MS. TAM COOK, Director of Legislative Legal Services, came forward to explain why this initiative should pass constitutional muster even though last year's did not. MS. COOK stated that the Alaska Supreme Court issued a preliminary decision that suggested the legislature has the power to propose amendments to the State Constitution, but not revisions of it. The court decided the scope of last year's amendment was so broad it constituted a revision of the Constitution rather than an amendment. MS. COOK explained that since the court has only issued a preliminary decision, her understanding of the reasoning behind their ruling is somewhat limited. MS. COOK observed the court focused on the number of sections of the Constitution that would be affected by the initiative and found 12. Two of the sections the court focused on, protection from excessive bail, excessive fines and unusual punishment, and the rights stemming from the principle of reformation, are the sections that will be influenced by this new, narrower amendment in SJR 2. MS. COOK said the hope is that the initiative has been narrowed enough to be deemed an amendment, rather than a revision, by the court. SENATOR ELLIS asked how it is possible to change the principle of reformation without affecting other sections of the Constitution by extension. SENATOR ELLIS said this doesn't seem like the best strategy to get this through the court. MS. COOK replied SENATOR ELLIS'S objection might be valid but in the preliminary decision the court identified the principle of reformation as a separate right. MS. COOK concluded this may be the best shot at trying to get something through. Number 265 SENATOR HALFORD asked when the full written opinion of the court could be expected. MS. COOK answered she has no expectations in this regard. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR commented that the failure of the court to issue timely decisions is a problem he would like the committee to address if there is no change. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR said the Supreme Court is supposed to consider cases within four to six months and he knows of cases that have dragged out 18 months or so. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR remarked this is offensive and he believes the Supreme Court has a duty and an obligation to act with dispatch. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR expressed concern that this decision precludes any amendment to the Constitution. He suggested an amendment to any provision of the Constitution would have some impact on other peripheral sections and would be subject to the court's ruling. MS. COOK replied that the court has indicated it will consider amendments on a case by case basis and it remains to be seen how the court will interpret the legislature's ability to propose amendments to the constitution. MS. COOK said case law will accumulate from this and future decisions. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR commented that the court can read newspapers, too, and seems willing to take on some issues and not others. SENATOR DONLEY added the real problem is that the court did not allow a full briefing on this issue. SENATOR DONLEY also said that he has never in the history of our nation's jurisprudence seen an incidence like this in which a court has amended a proposition put forth by the legislature and then placed it (as amended) on the ballot. SENATOR DONLEY remarked the Supreme Court seems to be in a "very creative mode." Number 376 MS. ANNE CARPENETI, representing the Department of Law, said the department was caught off guard by the 24-hour rule and she was pinch-hitting for Mr. Dean Guaneli who would be the more appropriate person to speak to this legislation. MS. CARPENETI said she understands CHAIRMAN TAYLOR's frustration with the court but is unable to address it. MS. CARPENETI said the preliminary decision is based on a California decision (RAVEN v. DEUKMEJIAN) which rules that both quantitative and qualitative bases are used to determine whether a constitutional change meets the threshold of a revision rather than an amendment. MS. CARPENETI said we do not know exactly the basis on which the Alaska Supreme Court came to their decision, but we know that a more limited approach is more likely to get on the ballot. MS. CARPENETI stated that Mr. Guaneli wanted to advise the committee that since they seem most concerned with the principle of reformation, they may want to draft the amendment in a way that affects only that provision. Number 405 SENATOR ELLIS asked SENATOR DONLEY why the bill limits prisoners' rights to those allowed by the federal constitution, rather than directly repealing the reformation rights granted by the State Constitution. SENATOR DONLEY replied he agrees with the principle of reformation in the Constitution and the intent behind it. He explained the Constitutional Convention intended the principle of reformation to be a guideline, not an individual right as it has been misinterpreted by our court. SENATOR DONLEY said by setting the federal benchmark, a minimum standard is guaranteed to prisoners but the court is prevented from creatively expanding prisoners' rights in defiance of the intent of the Constitutional Convention. Number 435 SENATOR ELLIS asked what had happened to the idea that we Alaskans don't care how other people do things. He asked if it was SENATOR DONLEY'S belief that we spend too much money rehabilitating people. SENATOR DONLEY replied he believes our Constitution and the intent of the principle of reformation is good, but it is being misinterpreted by our Supreme Court. SENATOR DONLEY suggested the 1997 case demonstrated the future danger of following the line of logic that expands prisoners' rights. SENATOR ELLIS mentioned that the Department of Corrections spends quite a bit of money to make a law library available to prisoners. He asked if this bill would affect that. SENATOR DONLEY replied prisoners would still have access to information about the law, as specified in the U.S. Constitution, but, unless it is determined by the court that the library itself is a requirement of the federal constitution, the method of access to the information might be different if it was found to be more cost effective. SENATOR DONLEY said it is difficult to understand the Cleary decision fully as the court did not see fit to distinguish what was based on federal constitutional law and what derived from our state constitution. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asked if there was anyone else wishing to testify on SJR 2. Number 505 SENATOR HALFORD moved SJR 2 from committee with individual recommendations. SENATOR ELLIS objected. SENATOR ELLIS spoke to his objection saying he has supported the no-frills prison legislation but in this case would like to see the committee wait for more guidance from the Supreme Court. SENATOR ELLIS suggested the committee might send a letter to the court asking them to expedite their decision. He commented that his objection was also based on the grounds that a constitutional amendment on subsistence is a much more pressing concern. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR responded by saying he believes the Supreme Court knew the Legislature would want more than a preliminary opinion on this issue and he is not willing to wait. Action may prompt the court's attention to this matter, according to CHAIRMAN TAYLOR. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR noted that if the court ruling under discussion says anything, it says the legislature will never be able to bring an amendment on subsistence that is narrow enough to be considered an amendment rather than a revision. SENATOR ELLIS asked if CHAIRMAN TAYLOR planned to work on a subsistence amendment. SENATOR TORGERSON interjected that this was not part of the discussion and they were working on SJR 2. Number 550 SENATOR ELLIS remarked he was simply addressing CHAIRMAN TAYLOR'S comments and he hoped the committee would continue to conduct itself in the open, fair and far-ranging manner it has in the past under CHAIRMAN TAYLOR'S leadership. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR called for the vote on the motion. The roll was called on the motion to move SJR 2 from committee with individual recommendations. Voting yea were SENATOR HALFORD, SENATOR TORGERSON, SENATOR DONLEY and CHAIRMAN TAYLOR; SENATOR ELLIS voted nay. SJR 2 moved from committee with individual recommendations.