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Crime debate dominates Alaska legislative session

November 7, 2017

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The issue of crime has so far dominated the special legislative session in Alaska.

The House on Monday entered its third day of floor debate on amendments to a bill — prompted by public outcry over crime — that makes changes to a criminal justice overhaul passed last year. Critics said the overhaul was too soft on crime.

The overhaul, based on recommendations from a special commission, stemmed from concerns about the state’s growing prison population and high rates of recidivism. The commission, among other things, recommended limiting the use of prison for lower-level misdemeanor offenders, targeting prison space for violent and more serious offenders.

The bill under debate would stiffen penalties for certain crimes and, according to the Department of Corrections, could result in more people being imprisoned.

Debate during the special session has, at times, been heated and intense. Some lawmakers want the overhaul repealed, while others favor modifications and giving the overhaul more time to work.

Whatever passes the House still must go to the Senate, which passed its own version of the bill earlier this year. The House convened briefly Monday morning before taking an extended recess amid a looming deadline for submitting amendments.

The other issue on the session agenda is a wage tax, proposed by Gov. Bill Walker as a way to help address the state’s budget deficit. He faces a tough sell, particularly with the Republican-led Senate.

The special session began Oct. 23.

Special sessions in Alaska can last up to 30 days.

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