Legislature convenes special session on taxes, crime

JUNEAU — The Alaska Legislature opened a new special session Monday — its fourth of the year — with an eye to addressing public outcry over crime.

 

Gov. Bill Walker called the special session, asking lawmakers to revise a sweeping criminal justice overhaul passed last year and to consider a tax on wages.

Walker, who is politically unaffiliated, sees new revenue as a key component of a plan to address a multibillion-dollar state deficit that has persisted amid low oil prices. But he faces a challenge in selling skeptical lawmakers on his tax proposal.

The schedule for the first day of the session, which was marked by fits and starts, included House and Senate hearings on crime.

Minority House Republicans said the crime legislation appeared to be on a fast track and worried it would be rushed through. House Minority Leader Charisse Millett, an Anchorage Republican, said the issue deserves vigorous debate.

The overhaul passed last year was aimed at addressing problems facing the criminal justice system, including high rates of recidivism and a growing prison population.

But critics say it goes too easy on criminals, and some argue it should be repealed. Others caution against rushing to judgment, citing the state’s economic woes, an opioid epidemic and budget cuts that have affected prosecutors and law enforcement.

Rep. Matt Claman, an Anchorage Democrat and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said the panel would set aside several hours for public comment on proposed changes to the law.

The Senate passed its own version of the revised crime legislation earlier this year.

The week’s legislative calendar also includes meetings unrelated to the session topics, such as an inaugural meeting of a new working group on oil and gas taxes.

The budget and ending a state program of providing cashable tax credits for smaller producers and explorers on the oil-rich North Slope were major focuses of the prior special sessions. Costs for those sessions totaled more than $1.2 million.

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