People First Bills will protect vulnerable Alaskans
Today Governor Mike Dunleavy introduced three public safety bills as part of the People First Initiative. The trio of bills will fight overdose related deaths, protect victims of sex trafficking, prosecute traffickers, and tighten up the sex offender registry statutes.
SB 66 (HB 68) will provide greater legal protection to victims of sex trafficking, increase penalties for traffickers, and targets the demand for sex trafficking. The bill classifies sex trafficking as a crime against a person and places the most serious classification on those crimes that use force to traffic an underage person.
“Sex trafficking is evil. Traffickers steal their victim’s freedom and deprive them of dignity,” said Governor Mike Dunleavy. “While the government cannot cure all of society’s problems, it is a moral imperative that we do everything in our power to prevent sex trafficking, protect victims, and prosecute those who violate laws protecting a person’s most fundamental human rights.”
The legislation will allow prosecutors to charge someone who solicits sexual acts with reckless disregard to the fact that the person they are soliciting is a victim. The crime, “Patron of Victim of Sex Trafficking,” is a class B sex felony if the victim is under 18-years-old, and a class C sex felony is the person is over 18-years-old. Individuals convicted under the new law will be required to enroll with the state’s sex offender registry list.
SB 66 also establishes a process for a person who has been convicted of prostitution or low-level drug possession to have that conviction vacated if the act was committed while they were a victim of sex trafficking. The bill also clarifies that human trafficking is about labor and is different from sex trafficking.
“As an organization that has walked with victims of sex trafficking in the State of Alaska for the past 13 years, we are cheering loudly for this important piece of legislation,” said Gwen Adams, Executive Director of Priceless Alaska. “This work focuses on victims first. The ability to get a job and start over with a new life has been hampered by current laws that do not acknowledge that many convicted of the crime of prostitution were forced into the trade. This legislation gives them a chance at a clean record. In addition to focusing on victims, this legislation addresses the demand side of selling humans for sex. This has been largely ignored and we cannot expect trafficking to be reduced until we reduce demand and place some responsibility on sex buyers. From top to bottom this work will make the buying and selling of humans for sexual purposes much more difficult and costly in our great state. There is absolutely no legitimate reason this piece should not pass with the full support of our legislators. We wholeheartedly support the Governor, saying vote yes and end trafficking on Alaskan soil.”
SB 65 (HB 67) corrects a loophole in Alaska’s sex offender registration system and decreases the trauma of the justice system for victims. Currently, Alaska is seen as a haven for sex offenders because our existing statute does not require all sex offenders convicted in another state to register as a sex offender upon moving to Alaska. This bill prevents sex offenders convicted out-of-state from avoiding registration requirements by moving to Alaska. It also requires offenders to provide additional information such as professional licensing and information on out-of-state or out-of-country travel plans to the Department of Public Safety (DPS) so that DPS can better monitor offenders.
The bill makes the criminal justice system less traumatizing to victims by allowing key witnesses, typically the officer in the case, to summarize the testimony of other witnesses for purposes of grand jury. This makes the system less traumatizing to victims who would otherwise have to physically appear at the grand jury, sometimes mere days after being victimized, and re-tell their experience. This also has the benefit of making the criminal justice process more efficient and will assist with the backlog created when grand juries were suspended due to COVID-19.
In 2021, 253 Alaskans died from a drug overdose. Alaska’s overdose death rate increased by 102 percent from 2017 to 2021 due largely to the introduction and prevalence of synthetic opioids like fentanyl. SB 64 (HB 66) allows prosecutors to charge a person who manufactures or distributes a controlled substance that causes an overdose death with second-degree murder. This is an increase from the current highest charge of manslaughter and will keep convicted drug dealers out of Alaska communities for a more extended period. The legislation also ensures that offenders convicted of distributing or manufacturing drugs will not be released early due to a “good time” deduction from their sentence.
“Drug dealers prey on Alaskans with addictions. Tragically, hundreds of Alaskans have died from a drug overdose before reaching recovery,” said Governor Dunleavy. “When you create or distribute a drug that causes someone to overdose and die, you have forfeited your right to live freely in society and you will spend years in prison where you can do no more harm to our Alaskan communities.”
These three bills are components of the People First Initiative. Governor Dunleavy launched the People First Initiative in December 2021. It focuses on five primary, often intersecting topics: domestic violence and sexual assault, missing and murdered indigenous person, human/sex trafficking, foster care and homelessness.