Central Peninsula state legislators held a town hall meeting in Soldotna Wednesday night. Representatives Mike Chenault and Gary Knopp and Senator Peter Micciche took questions and talked about what they expect out of an upcoming special session.
Micciche says he would like to see work sessions in Anchorage before gaveling in at the capitol later this month.
“Where the Democrat led House can talk about why they think we need so much more money and the Senate can talk about why we believe we can contain costs and have less need for additional revenue. Instead he (Gov. Walker) dropped another tax (proposal). That’s not going to bring people together.”
Governor Walker has proposed 1.5 percent payroll tax that would generate some $300 million in new revenue, 15 percent of which would come from out-of-state workers. A few people said they felt the state budget has been cut enough in recent years, but generally the mood was anti-tax.
The delegation also took a number of questions about recent crime reform legislation. Senate Bill 91 was passed last year with the goal of reducing prison costs. There were a lot of opinions about the efficacy of that bill and its effects, whether more lenient sentencing for low level crimes and reductions in criminal penalties have had the desired effect. Chenault says continuing property crime trends on parts of the Peninsula shouldn’t be blamed entirely on the bill.
“All of the crime that we have today is not caused by SB 91. In fact, some parts of that just went into effect in January of this year. But we are concerned about it. It affects everyone in our community.”
Kenai Police Chief David Ross spoke at length about the changes SB 91 introduced and what Senate Bill 54 would do to address some issues that have come from those changes. A big policy shift was making violations of conditions of release an infraction instead of a jailable offense. That along with the softened penalties for most crimes is what critics have said has meant criminals back out and committing the same crimes sometimes in the same day.
“Senate Bill 54 turns it back into a crime, which simplifies the processing of it and allows the arrest of those people if they violate conditions of release. It created some interesting issues. If you were the third party custodian for somebody and they ran off or you didn’t do your third party custodian’s duties, you’re guilty of a crime but they’re only guilty of an infraction. So that’s a fix in Senate Bill 54," Ross said.
That bill along with the payroll tax will be on the agenda when the legislature gavels in for its 4th special session on October 23rd.