Bill would have state handle crimes on ferries

Posted: Sunday, March 24, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Legislators acted Friday to close a loophole that prevented a rape on a state ferry from being prosecuted.

The House of Representatives unanimously approved a measure that lets the state prosecute crimes on state vessels, even if the boat is not in Alaska waters.

Rep. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, said he sponsored the bill in response to a case last year in which a young woman was raped while the ferry Matanuska was in Canadian waters traveling from Seattle to Ketchikan.

When the ship docked in Ketchikan, the district attorney got an indictment against the assailant, but the superior court dismissed the case, saying the state didn't have jurisdiction.

''This problem is not going to go away,'' Meyer said. ''This is not an isolated incident.''

Meyer said in December a man who had been drinking attacked ferry crew members while outside Alaska waters and has filed a motion to dismiss charges against him based on the ruling in the rape case.

Meyer said the state Department of Law asked him to sponsor the measure.

Dean Guaneli of the Department of Law said the state has appealed the judge's ruling in the rape case to the state Court of Appeals.

He did not know whether federal authorities would pursue the case if the state cannot, but said they generally prefer to leave such cases to states. The Canadian government would not have an interest in the case either, since the crime involved Alaska citizens on an Alaska vessel, Guaneli said.

''There's a strong interest in the safety of our passengers and the security of our vessels, so we wanted to pursue it and Canada really doesn't have those same interests,'' he said.

Guaneli said he believes the alleged assailant remains in jail on an unrelated charge.

Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, tried to amend the bill to cover crimes committed against Alaskans on any vessel that started its trip in Alaska or is headed to Alaska.

Not adding the language could leave Alaskans unprotected while on fishing boats or oil tankers traveling outside state waters, Berkowitz said.

Meyer argued against the change, saying it was too broad and could carry unknown ramifications. The amendment failed on a 10-27 vote.

Guaneli said later he also saw problems with expanding the bill to the extent Berkowitz proposed.

The bill itself passed unanimously. It now goes to the Senate.

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