Legislature(2003 - 2004)
04/06/2004 04:21 PM Senate FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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 Committee. 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 restitution. 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 difficulties. 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.