JUNEAU (AP) -- A bill approved in the Senate would greatly expand the number of people who could forfeit their permanent fund checks due to criminal convictions.
The bill expands the list of convictions that would make a person ineligible for a dividend check to include first offense misdemeanors such as driving while intoxicated.
It also expands the length of time that convicts lose eligibility to collect dividends.
Under provisions of the bill, a person convicted of a misdemeanor would lose eligibility for at least two years. People jailed for Class A or B misdemeanors would lose their check for five years.
In Alaska, misdemeanors include reckless driving, some domestic abuse cases, and wanton waste of big game animals.
Last year, more than 5,600 Alaskans were convicted of nonviolent misdemeanors, said a spokeswoman with the state Department of Correction.
Senate Bill 338 passed the Senate 18-1 Tuesday and now goes to the House for consideration.
It was sponsored by the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Anchorage, said the bill is intended to deter crime and recoup the cost of prosecution.
''It is pretty tough because misdemeanors in the state as well as felons are costing the state of Alaska a lot of money,'' Ward said.
Under current state law, Alaskans would not qualify for a check if they were incarcerated during the previous year for a felony. Current law also applies to a person incarcerated for a misdemeanor who had a prior felony or two misdemeanor convictions.
The bill lengthens the time in which convicts would lose a permanent fund check from two years to a lifetime, in the case of those convicted of murder and other unclassified crimes.
People convicted of nonviolent Class A-C felonies would lose their dividend for 10 years. People convicted of violent classified felonies would lose their dividend for 20 years.
Also, someone who commits first-degree criminal mischief, such as intentionally damaging an oil or gas facility, would lose their dividend for 20 years.
That provision was in response to an incident last October in which a hole was shot in the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. Daniel Carson Lewis is scheduled to go on trial in September for that incident.
Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, cast the lone vote against the bill on Tuesday. Hoffman said it is too broad and it could fall disproportionately on Alaska Natives.
Alaska Natives made up more than 64 percent of the state's inmate population in 2000, according to a Department of Correction report.
''I think this legislation just went too far,'' Hoffman said.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.