Legislature(2005 - 2006)BELTZ 211

03/29/2005 03:30 PM Senate STATE AFFAIRS

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Heard & Held
Heard & Held
Moved HJR 8 Out of Committee
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
Moved SB 132 Out of Committee
Moved CSSB 143(STA) Out of Committee
                 SSSB  26-FELONS' RIGHT TO VOTE                                                                             
CHAIR  GENE   THERRIAULT  announced   SSSB  26   to  be   up  for                                                               
4:55:27 PM                                                                                                                    
AMANDA WILSON,  Staff to  Senator Davis,  explained that  SSSB 26                                                               
addresses Alaska  voting laws. The Alaska  State Constitution has                                                               
a provision that  a person who is convicted of  a felony of moral                                                               
turpitude loses the right to  vote until his/her civil rights are                                                               
restored.  Under statute  a person's  civil  rights are  restored                                                               
upon unconditional discharge.  Unconditional discharge is defined                                                               
in  statute   as  being  discharged  from   probation  or  parole                                                               
provisions after having served the sentence.                                                                                    
The problem associated  with this is demonstrated  in the example                                                               
of a person  who is convicted of a felony  of moral turpitude and                                                               
receives  a  six-months  sentence. After  6-months  incarceration                                                               
comes probation and  that can extend for a  decade. The probation                                                               
period is  not necessarily  in line with  what the  judge thought                                                               
the sentence should be, she said.                                                                                               
While on  probation the person pays  taxes, maintains employment,                                                               
and perhaps  raises a family,  but he/she  may not vote.  SSSB 26                                                               
proposes  to change  the  law  to state  that  once  a person  is                                                               
released  from  incarceration, he/she  would  have  the right  to                                                               
vote. This changes no other  rights or obligations, but it brings                                                               
the person  back into society  in a meaningful  way. Furthermore,                                                               
studies have  shown a  person who  votes is  much less  likely to                                                               
recidivate than a person who doesn't vote.                                                                                      
She  suggested  that  the  process  would  be  rehabilitative  to                                                               
participate in  the community  and public  process of  voting. To                                                               
bolster that point  she read from President Bush's  2002 State of                                                               
the Union Address as follows:                                                                                                   
     This year  some 600,000  inmates will be  released from                                                                    
     prison back into society. We  know from long experience                                                                    
     that if they  can't find work or home or  help they are                                                                    
     much  more likely  commit crime  and return  to prison.                                                                    
     America is  the land  of a second  chance and  when the                                                                    
     gates of the prison open  the path ahead should lead to                                                                    
     a better life.                                                                                                             
MS. WILSON said  that although Alaska Natives make  up just 15.6%                                                               
of the population, fully 37.4%  of the disenfranchised population                                                               
is Alaska Native.  Similarly, African American's make  up 3.5% of                                                               
Alaska's   population,    but   account    for   8.2%    of   the                                                               
disenfranchised.  She  said  these  numbers  indicate  a  greater                                                               
impact on the minority community.                                                                                               
"Felony   disenfranchisement   is   the  last   major   form   of                                                               
disenfranchisement," she  said. However, in the  last seven years                                                               
a  number  of states  have  addressed  this  issue and  two  have                                                               
removed felony  disenfranchisements altogether. The  American Bar                                                               
Association and the National Association  of Mayors have endorsed                                                               
this concept and she urged the committee to do the same.                                                                        
5:00:14 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR THERRIAULT referenced the  sponsor statement and noted that                                                               
Alaska isn't  out of step with  the majority of states.  Fully 21                                                               
states  have the  same  provision and  14  states have  permanent                                                               
SENATOR DAVIS acknowledged that Alaska is in the middle.                                                                        
SENATOR  THOMAS   WAGONER  commented  he  doubts   that  when  an                                                               
individual commits a  felony that he/she thinks  about losing the                                                               
right to  vote. He suggested  it is  a consequence of  the action                                                               
and he  doesn't understand  why the  committee would  worry about                                                               
that.  Furthermore he  wasn't sure  how many  would exercise  the                                                               
CHAIR THERRIAULT said a number  of considerations go into setting                                                               
the jail time  and length of parole and he  didn't believe it was                                                               
fair to say  that the judge thought the person  should serve just                                                               
6-months and all  rights should be restored at the  end of the 6-                                                               
month period. The Legislature may  have made the policy call that                                                               
the sentence should be 5-years  and the judge could mitigate that                                                               
by giving part of the sentence as parole.                                                                                       
SENATOR  DAVIS responded  the Legislature  did  make that  policy                                                               
call and  that's why she introduced  the bill. "It's time  for us                                                               
to  look at  it again,"  she  said. Just  because someone  didn't                                                               
think  about losing  the right  to vote  when committing  a crime                                                               
doesn't mean that  he/she wouldn't exercise the right  if it were                                                               
SENATOR WAGONER  said he  thought if a  person was  convicted and                                                               
did 9  months in jail  he/she would be  on parole in  his/her own                                                               
CHAIR THERRIAULT said Portia Parker  could address the particular                                                               
SENATOR CHARLIE  HUGGINS assumed  the majority  of the  people in                                                               
the population  under discussion  probably weren't  registered to                                                               
vote prior to committing the felony.                                                                                            
MS. WILSON  replied 4,643  Alaskans were  registered to  vote and                                                               
lost the right as a result of a felony conviction.                                                                              
SENATOR HUGGINS  responded, "The  question is whether  they voted                                                               
or not." He further assumed that  for a felon, being able to vote                                                               
is not an important thing in his/her life.                                                                                      
MS.  WILSON  replied she  hadn't  done  that  poll, but  if  it's                                                               
important to  a few it  should be important.  It's a part  of the                                                               
rehabilitative process  and some people often  don't realize that                                                               
they lost the right to vote until they're released from prison.                                                                 
SENATOR WAGONER clarified he said  that the parole period is part                                                               
of  the sentence.  Losing the  right to  vote isn't  part of  the                                                               
sentence but with  the parole period comes the loss  of the right                                                               
to vote.                                                                                                                        
CHAIR THERRIAULT said if 4,600  people were previously registered                                                               
to vote  and had  lost that  right then  passing this  bill would                                                               
give the right to vote to a much larger group.                                                                                  
MS.  WILSON  replied  just  the  people  who  are  on  parole  or                                                               
probation would be re-enfranchised.                                                                                             
CHAIR  THERRIAULT said  those people  who are  out on  parole and                                                               
weren't previously  registered to  vote would  have the  right to                                                               
vote if this were to pass.                                                                                                      
MS. WILSON said yes.                                                                                                            
SENATOR  HUGGINS  remarked  there  are several  things,  such  as                                                               
voting, that you  do for your country. He  elaborated, "The other                                                               
would be  to go to  Iraq or  Afghanistan to defend  your country.                                                               
The  same people  we're talking  about  here would  not meet  the                                                               
prerequisite  to go  to Afghanistan  or Iraq."  He asked  Senator                                                               
Davis whether she would agree with that statement.                                                                              
SENATOR DAVIS responded she didn't  necessarily agree because she                                                               
didn't  know the  qualifications,  but some  convicted felons  do                                                               
serve in the military.                                                                                                          
SENATOR HUGGINS said  it would require a waiver and  his point is                                                               
that when you become a felon,  there are things such as voting or                                                               
going to defend your country  that you simply cannot do. However,                                                               
he said,  "I think you could  probably make a case  that it might                                                               
be as  good a thing as  anything for recidivism if  they could go                                                               
to Iraq..."                                                                                                                     
SENATOR DAVIS  stated the intent of  SB 26 is to  give people the                                                               
right  and opportunity  to vote  if  they want  to exercise  that                                                               
right. The  idea certainly isn't that  you have to go  to Iraq to                                                               
get  the right  to vote  back. "That's  not what  we're concerned                                                               
about  and  neither should  you  be  concerned about  that,"  she                                                               
declared. Once  you've served your  time you should get  back the                                                               
right to vote.                                                                                                                  
SENATOR  HUGGINS clarified  his point  that felons  are precluded                                                               
from service to country without a waiver.                                                                                       
5:12:43 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  THERRIAULT remarked  there  is  a right  to  vote in  this                                                               
country as long as you  keep the compact with society. Committing                                                               
a  felony  breaks that  compact,  which  is  why the  freedom  of                                                               
movement is  revoked. The right to  vote is the same.  You can be                                                               
incarcerated and serving your sentence  isn't limited to the time                                                               
spent behind  bars. He said he  would like Ms. Parker  to clarify                                                               
whether or  not it's possible  to commit  a felony in  Alaska and                                                               
have no jail time. If you serve  no jail time and didn't lose the                                                               
right  to vote,  "I'm  not  sure my  constituents  are ready  for                                                               
people committing felonies and paying no price," he said.                                                                       
SENATOR DAVIS asked if the  people in his district appreciate the                                                               
fact that  you might commit  a felony and  not serve any  time at                                                               
all. It still happens, she said.                                                                                                
CHAIR  THERRIAULT agreed  that you  might maintain  the right  to                                                               
move around but you'd lost your right to vote.                                                                                  
SENATOR DAVIS responded, "That's what I'm trying to correct."                                                                   
MS.  WILSON clarified  the technical  point  that some  convicted                                                               
felons serve  jail time and  don't lose  the right to  vote. It's                                                               
only those  convicted of  felonies of  moral turpitude  that lose                                                               
the right  to vote. She said  the list of those  crimes is listed                                                               
in the bill packet.                                                                                                             
CHAIR THERRIAULT opened public testimony.                                                                                       
5:15:04 PM                                                                                                                    
ALONZO PATTERSON JR., representing  the Shiloh Missionary Baptist                                                               
Church, the  American National and Alaskan  Baptist Churches, the                                                               
Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance,  the Martin Luther King                                                               
Foundation  of Alaska,  and  former member  of  the Alaska  State                                                               
Parole Board spoke  via teleconference. He reported  that he also                                                               
served 12 years as chair of the Alaska State Parole Board.                                                                      
He  spoke  in  strong  support  of  SB  26  and  emphasized  that                                                               
sentencing disparity and errors do occur. He further said:                                                                      
     Certainly when one  goes to jail a price  must be paid.                                                                    
     However,  please  keep  in  mind,   part  of  the  paid                                                                    
     programming  in the  institution is  rehabilitation. If                                                                    
     rehabilitation is not a high  consideration for us then                                                                    
     what is? If you take away  the hope of an individual in                                                                    
     jail, to  come out  and do  better, then  you encourage                                                                    
     re-incarceration   of   that    person   or   continued                                                                    
     recidivism of that person in the institution.                                                                              
He urged  the committee  to pass  SB 26.  Give them  something to                                                               
reach for, he said.                                                                                                             
5:22:49 PM                                                                                                                    
MICHAEL MACLEOD-BALL  Executive Director, Alaska  Civil Liberties                                                               
Union  (ACLU),  spoke  in  strong  support  of  SB  26  and  drew                                                               
attention to the letter he wrote to Senator Davis.                                                                              
Since  the mid  1980s the  ACLU has  supported the  right of  any                                                               
individual convicted of any offense  to vote. Prisoners should be                                                               
able to  express their beliefs  freely except when the  state can                                                               
demonstrate a  compelling interest  in limiting  that expression.                                                               
"In our view, no compelling  state interest can justify barring a                                                               
prisoner  from  expressing his  or  her  belief  in the  form  of                                                               
casting a secret ballot in a popular election."                                                                                 
If rehabilitation is a most  important goal for the penal system,                                                               
what  could be  more important  than ensuring  successful reentry                                                               
into  society,  he asked.  Establishing  a  comprehensive set  of                                                               
connections between  the offender and  the community in  which he                                                               
or  she  resides  advances  successful  reintegration.  Convicted                                                               
felons who reenter the community  on parole or serve on probation                                                               
face overwhelming  odds against  successful reintegration  yet we                                                               
expect  them  to face  challenges  in  the  same  way as  a  non-                                                               
offender. "If  that's our  demand, we  ought to  act by  the same                                                               
standard  and  give  the released  offender  the  opportunity  to                                                               
exercise his or her rights as  a functioning member of society if                                                               
in fact they have been released into society."                                                                                  
Referencing  NAACP vs.  Harvey he  said that  experts found  that                                                               
there is no rational purpose in  denying the vote to parolees and                                                               
probationers. Furthermore,                                                                                                      
     Denying  suffrage to  them,  in  fact, contradicts  the                                                                    
     purpose  of  rehabilitating   offenders.  Voting  is  a                                                                    
     positive  and re-integrative  event  that connects  the                                                                    
     offender    to    his     or    her    community    and                                                                    
     disenfranchisement  laws frustrate  offenders in  their                                                                    
     attempts  to reenter  society  fully and  successfully.                                                                    
     Disenfranchisement hinders  the rehabilitative purposes                                                                    
     of  parole and  probation  by denying  to parolees  and                                                                    
     probationers   the  rights   and  responsibilities   of                                                                    
     citizenship   and  participation   in  community   life                                                                    
     necessary to rehabilitation.                                                                                               
MR. MACLEOD-BALL said  his letter to Senator Davis  cited a study                                                               
in  Minneapolis that  found a  strong correlation  between voting                                                               
and recidivism.  It showed that  voters are about half  as likely                                                               
to be  rearrested as  non-voters. This  study supports  logic, he                                                               
said. Since  voting is a  pro-social endeavor, it has  the effect                                                               
of  weaving the  offender back  into the  community. Furthermore,                                                               
since  the purposes  of probation  and parole  are rehabilitative                                                               
rather than punitive, SB 26 makes particular sense.                                                                             
In passing this bill, Alaska will  join a movement of states that                                                               
are recognizing that  there is no practical  reason for arbitrary                                                               
restrictions  on  voting  rights.   In  fact,  the  American  Bar                                                               
Association has taken a position that matches this bill.                                                                        
"SB 26 offers you the opportunity  to work for positive change in                                                               
advancing the  ideals of our  nation and the ACLU  strongly urges                                                               
enactment of the bill," he concluded.                                                                                           
5:29:15 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR THERRIAULT asked Ms. Parker to come forward.                                                                              
PORTIA  PARKER, Deputy  Commissioner,  Department of  Corrections                                                               
(DOC), reported that the department  has taken no position on the                                                               
bill, but it does have  several concerns regarding implementation                                                               
and cost.                                                                                                                       
One issue is  the definition of incarceration  or incarcerated. A                                                               
number of  offenders are receiving credit  for being incarcerated                                                               
when serving in halfway houses,  under electronic monitor, and in                                                               
treatment beds. These  individuals are in the  community but they                                                               
are incarcerated; they are in prison.                                                                                           
The other issue is the  confusion between probation and parole. A                                                               
judge  gives  probation.  If  an   offender  receives  a  12-year                                                               
sentence with 3 years suspended, 9  years would be served and the                                                               
3 years would  be probationary upon release.  However, because of                                                               
mandatory parole the  offender would get out after  6 years. Some                                                               
of that time could be served  in a halfway house. Following the 6                                                               
years, the offender is on probation  for 3 years and parole for 3                                                               
years.  In Alaska  they run  concurrently so  supervision is  for                                                               
just 3 years.                                                                                                                   
CHAIR   THERRIAULT   asked   if    the   offender   is   released                                                               
unconditionally after 9 years.                                                                                                  
MS. PARKER said that's correct;  they would receive unconditional                                                               
release and their voting rights would be restored.                                                                              
Since Peratrovitch,  the Department of Corrections  can no longer                                                               
restrict  an offender  from  returning  home if  he/she  is on  a                                                               
waiting list  for treatment. "Whether  it's alcohol  treatment or                                                               
sex offender  treatment, we  cannot - as  probation and  parole -                                                               
keep them  from going back  to their hometown as  they're waiting                                                               
to get into  a treatment facility or to other  services. That was                                                               
a 2002 case in Peratrovitch."                                                                                                   
Another  concern  is  the  cost  and  logistics  of  letting  the                                                               
Division of  Elections know because  violation occurs  between 30                                                               
and 50 percent  of the time. Typically,  parole violations and/or                                                               
revocations occur  within the  first year  and it's  not uncommon                                                               
for violation  to occur  within the  first month.  Certainly this                                                               
would increase the  workload for the department  and the Division                                                               
of Elections.                                                                                                                   
5:34:53 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR THERRIAULT noted the Department  of Corrections fiscal note                                                               
is zero.                                                                                                                        
MS. PARKER acknowledged that was  correct and that the department                                                               
is  working  with the  Division  of  Elections to  determine  the                                                               
impact. "It  would just depend  on the volume and  turnover," she                                                               
CHAIR THERRIAULT  asked how  long a  parole violator  might spend                                                               
back in prison and how many times the door might revolve.                                                                       
MS.  PARKER  said  it  depends. If  he/she  commits  a  technical                                                               
violation and  a new  crime is committed  then he/she  is revoked                                                               
and  would  typically go  back  into  the  system and  serve  the                                                               
probation/parole time. The  offender may also reapply  to get out                                                               
on  discretionary parole  or they  serve and  get out  in another                                                               
two-thirds of the sentence.                                                                                                     
Often the  offender is re-released,  but she didn't have  data on                                                               
how often that occurs.                                                                                                          
CHAIR THERRIAULT  asked if she  would be contacting  other states                                                               
that have taken this step to determine the fiscal impact.                                                                       
MS. PARKER  said that would probably  be the next step  in trying                                                               
to determine  the fiscal  impact. She noted  that Alaska  has the                                                               
unified system  compared to  the county  system so  comparison is                                                               
5:38:42 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR DAVIS  asked her to speak  to the form that  DOC uses for                                                               
individuals who will be out on  probation. She said her staff was                                                               
retrieving a copy.                                                                                                              
SENATOR HUGGINS asked  if the recidivism rate is  higher or lower                                                               
for felony of moral turpitude than other crimes.                                                                                
MS. PARKER  said she didn't  have that information;  the offenses                                                               
are wide ranging.                                                                                                               
CHAIR THERRIAULT said  it ranges from murder in  the first degree                                                               
to unlawful furnishing of explosives to misconduct by a juror.                                                                  
He asked Senator Davis what she  had in mind for a definition for                                                               
SENATOR DAVIS answered as long  as they're serving the sentence -                                                               
even if  it's under house  arrest -  they would be  serving their                                                               
SENATOR  DAVIS asked  Ms.  Parker to  speak  to the  probationary                                                               
MS.  PARKER responded,  "This is  a letter  that is  used in  the                                                               
Juneau region.  They are  a little different  in each  area." The                                                               
letter  is  provided  to  the offender  upon  completion  of  the                                                               
probation/parole advising that the  individual's rights are being                                                               
SENATOR DAVIS  asked what  difference it would  make to  use this                                                               
letter under the provisions of SB 26.                                                                                           
MS. PARKER said there wouldn't  be any difference. The individual                                                               
would receive  the letter when  discharged from prison  and going                                                               
onto  probation/parole.  She  said  her concern  relates  to  the                                                               
number of revocations.                                                                                                          
SENATOR DAVIS asked how they use the letter now.                                                                                
MS. PARKER answered  it's used when the  individual is completely                                                               
off probation/parole and therefore no longer under supervision.                                                                 
CHAIR  THERRIAULT asked  if  it's  correct that  parole/probation                                                               
can't  be extended  beyond  the term  of  the original  sentence.                                                               
Unless a  new crime is  committed, the individual would  get just                                                               
one  letter. Under  SB 26  an individual  could receive  multiple                                                               
MS PARKER said that's correct.                                                                                                  
SENATOR DAVIS  suggested the wheels  of progress don't  move that                                                               
fast  and  the person  who  violates  probation/parole within  12                                                               
hours   probably  wouldn't   have   received   the  letter   yet.                                                               
Nonetheless, "That's  something that  could be worked  through. I                                                               
have no  problem with  that. That still  doesn't say  they should                                                               
not have that  right simply because we have to  come up with some                                                               
way to make it work."                                                                                                           
MS. PARKER  responded she is  just addressing the fact  that once                                                               
released, the  letter is  sent to the  Division of  Elections. If                                                               
the  individual isn't  registered  to vote  and doesn't  register                                                               
upon release  it probably wouldn't create  a lot of work  for the                                                               
Division  of Elections,  but DOC  would  still need  to give  the                                                               
individual the letter upon release.                                                                                             
SENATOR DAVIS said that would  all be taken into consideration if                                                               
the  bill were  to pass.  It's premature  for DOC  to say  how it                                                               
would work at this point.                                                                                                       
MS. PARKER said it could be  worked out that a letter wouldn't be                                                               
provided at all; she was just explaining what is done currently.                                                                
CHAIR  THERRIAULT said,  "At the  very least,  Senator Davis,  we                                                               
need to  work with  the drafters  on the  definition of  the word                                                               
SENATOR DAVIS said she had no problem with that.                                                                                
CHAIR THERRIAULT  announced he  was closing  the hearing  on SSSB
26. The bill was held in committee.                                                                                             

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