Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/06/2004 04:21 PM Senate FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
     SENATE CS FOR CS FOR HOUSE BILL NO. 357(JUD)                                                                               
     "An Act relating to restitution; and providing for an                                                                      
     effective date."                                                                                                           
This  was the first  hearing  for this  bill in  the Senate  Finance                                                            
Co-Chair  Wilken  stated,   sponsored  by  Representative   Samuels,                                                            
"requires judges  to order restitution in every criminal  case where                                                            
a victim has  suffered a financial  loss. It ensures that  offenders                                                            
are  ordered  to  make  realistic  restitution   payments  within  a                                                            
reasonable timeframe."                                                                                                          
REPRESENTATIVE RALPH SAMUELS  testified that in 1994 the legislature                                                            
passed, and voters approved  a constitutional amendment giving crime                                                            
victims  certain  rights.  Article  1,  Section  24  of  the  Alaska                                                            
Constitution,  he pointed out, lists the specific  rights, including                                                            
the rights  of restitution  from the  accused. He  stated this  bill                                                            
conforms statutes to the constitution.                                                                                          
Representative   Samuels  noted  the  bill  changes   court  ordered                                                            
restitution  from an optional order  to a mandatory required  order.                                                            
He relayed that some victims  may prefer to not receive restitution,                                                            
such as a family  member, or a victim of a violent  crime wanting to                                                            
"get on  with their  life" and have  no reminders  of the crime.  In                                                            
these  events, he  stated  that the  victim  has the  option to  not                                                            
receive restitution,  but under the provisions of  this legislation,                                                            
the ability  of  the offender  to pay  restitution,  would not  be a                                                            
factor in determining whether  the money is owed. He noted that most                                                            
crimes against  property are committed by young male  offenders, who                                                            
are in a stage of life  in which they do not have significant assets                                                            
or income. However, he  stressed that this does not remove liability                                                            
for  those  individuals   once  they  are  in  a  position   to  pay                                                            
Representative  Samuels explained  that changes made to the  bill by                                                            
the Senate Judiciary  Committee clarified the accounting  procedures                                                            
of the legislation.                                                                                                             
Representative Samuels  stated this legislation would not change the                                                            
process, but rather  hold those in arrears accountable  for payment.                                                            
Co-Chair Green referenced  stipulations providing that when a person                                                            
is charged  with a  crime, restitution  must  be determined  without                                                            
considering   the  suspect's   ability   to  pay;   however,   after                                                            
conviction,  the offender's  ability to pay  could be considered  in                                                            
ordering restitution.                                                                                                           
Representative Samuels  explained this language would provide judges                                                            
the latitude  to prevent a liable  party from becoming bankrupt;  in                                                            
which  case he  pointed  out,  repayment  would never  be  received,                                                            
regardless of  whether the liable party earned sufficient  income in                                                            
the future.                                                                                                                     
Co-Chair Green  clarified that the court may not reduce  an order of                                                            
restitution but may change the payment schedule.                                                                                
Senator Dyson remarked  that Representative Samuels is attempting to                                                            
correct  inadvertent   omissions  of  Senator  Dyson's   when  these                                                            
statutes were amended several years prior.                                                                                      
DIANE  WENDLANDT,  Chief  Assistant  Attorney,  General,   Statewide                                                            
Section  Supervisor,   Collections   and  Supports  Section,   Civil                                                            
Division  Department of Law,  testified via  teleconference  from an                                                            
offnet  location  to answer  questions  related to  the collections                                                             
process. She described  the Senate Judiciary Committee  amendment to                                                            
the bill to require that  restitution payments received by the court                                                            
be transferred to the Department of Law for distribution.                                                                       
Co-Chair Green  noted other programs in which the  court is required                                                            
to order restitution,  although accounting difficulties  have arisen                                                            
in the link  between the court and  the receiving agency.  She asked                                                            
if the  provisions  of this  legislation  would encounter  the  same                                                            
Ms. Wendlandt  responded that  efforts are  underway to correct  the                                                            
situation   and  that  implementing   this  legislation   should  be                                                            
successful. She expressed  this legislation reflects the theory that                                                            
money should never "be  turned away". She spoke to the reluctance of                                                            
some victims  to accept restitution,  particularly if the  offenders                                                            
are known to them, and also when living in smaller communities.                                                                 
Senator Olson asked if  any opposition to this bill has been voiced.                                                            
Representative Samuels  answered none has been received and that the                                                            
public defender has not testified to this legislation.                                                                          
Senator Olson  asked if other states  implement similar procedures.                                                             
Representative Samuels was unsure of any.                                                                                       
Senator  Dyson  interjected  that  at least  35  other  states  have                                                            
implemented  some  form of  restorative  or restitution  method.  He                                                            
emphasized his support of this bill.                                                                                            
Senator Dyson  offered a  motion to report  the bill from  Committee                                                            
with individual recommendations and accompanying fiscal note.                                                                   
Without  objection  SCS CS  HB 357(JUD)  MOVED from  Committee  with                                                            
fiscal  note #1 from  the Department  of Administration  and  fiscal                                                            
note #2 from the  Department of Law, both in indeterminate  amounts.                                                            

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