Legislature(1999 - 2000)
01/22/1999 01:30 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 4-OFFICE OF VICTIMS' ADVOCACY SENATOR HALFORD noted that this same legislation passed the Senate last session and came very close to passing the House. Number 185 MR. BRETT HUBER, staff to SENATOR HALFORD, presented the bill as a mechanism for the application of the Victims' Rights Amendment passed in 1994. The bill establishes an office to assist crime victims in obtaining the rights guaranteed to them under the Victims' Rights Amendment. MR. HUBER said that too often victims are left to deal with a complex judicial system heavily weighted to the benefit of criminals; SB 4 would provide these victims a knowledgeable advocate. MR. HUBER stressed that this bill would not negate the duty of the prosecutor's office nor preclude the need for organizations such as Victims' for Justice. MS. CHARLOTTE PHELPS, a victims' advocate, expressed her support for SB 4 and described her own experience as a victim. MS. PHELPS explained that often a victim is re-victimized by the judicial process. Number 240 MS. ANNE CARPENETI, representing the criminal division of the Department of Law, expressed the department's concern for crime victims and said the department favors legislation that helps victims. MS. CARPENETI also communicated the concerns of the department in regard to SB 4. MS. CARPENETI stated that she believes the department already makes a good effort to deliver services to crime victims and the involvement of another attorney as a victims' advocate might somehow hinder prosecution of a case. MS. CARPENETI brought forth an amendment to deal with this possibility and wished to include the deletion of "crime victims and" on page 6, line 26. MS. CARPENETI suggested that this would ensure victims could exercise their rights to free speech. MS. CARPENETI said this bill allows an advocate to speak on behalf of a victim if the victim so wishes. MS. CARPENETI remarked that the victim is the best person to speak on his or her own behalf and the advocate likely would not be more compelling than the district attorney. MS. CARPENETI said the department has no objection to increasing the limits on violent crimes compensation but hopes it will not be to the detriment of other programs. Number 329 SENATOR HALFORD moved the text brought forward by MS. CARPENETI, along with the suggested deletion of "crime victims and" on page 6, line 26 as Amendment #1. SENATOR TORGERSON objected to ask MS. CARPENETI for an example of how an advocate might discourage a victim from cooperating with the prosecution. MS. CARPENETI explained that in certain cases, such as domestic violence, victims may not wish to testify. MS. CARPENETI said the department does not force victims to testify in such cases and merely proceeds without their testimony. She stressed that the advocate would want to be very careful not to discourage the victim's testimony. SENATOR TORGERSON commented that the whole issue seems vague to him. MS. CARPENETI replied the department would be willing to work on the language in order to make this provision more explicit. Number 369 SENATOR HALFORD noted that the word "could" in this provision seems somewhat broad and might be better replaced with "would." MS. CARPENETI agreed that might be better. SENATOR TORGERSON asked what the consequences would be if an attorney violated this provision. MS. CARPENETI admitted an advocate is appointed for five years and it would likely depend on how serious the violation was. Number 395 CHAIRMAN TAYLOR concluded that a conflict of interest could arise in cases where the victim is also a suspect. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR noted some distinctions between perpetrator and victim tend to blend in certain situations and this might create a very difficult position for the advocate in advising a victim of his or her rights. Number 441 MS. KAREN JOHNSTON testified via teleconference from Anchorage in favor of SB 4. MS. JOHNSTON recounted her personal experience with the judicial process after the murder of her former husband. MS. JOHNSTON asserted that victims desperately need information and open channels of communication in order to deal with their grief. MS. LINDA TILLSWORTH spoke to the $50,000 cap on compensation for the victims of violent crime. MS. TILLSWORTH remarked that her family, as crime victims, can never be adequately compensated and the (approximately) $50,000 they have received has not been sufficient to cover the counseling they need to restore their family to some degree of normalcy. MS. TILLSWORTH said compensation levels should be increased. Number 533 CHAIRMAN TAYLOR thanked MS. TILLSWORTH for her efforts and assured her that her hard work has made an impact. MS. JANICE LEINHART, with Victims for Justice, remarked that she is amazed that defendants in violent crime cases get an attorney and victims do not. MS. LEINHART said currently victims' advocacy services are available in urban centers but not in rural Alaska. MS. LEINHART stressed the victims' need to speak for themselves. She did not know if there is a way to legislate this, but she knows the value of this in the healing process. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR agreed that it is very important for a victim to be able to express themselves and to be heard. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR explained that an advocate speaking on behalf of a victim somewhat dilutes the process and a victim speaking on his or her own behalf speaks better to the entire process. TAPE 99-2, SIDE B Number 583 MS. MONA MAEHARA, Acting Director of the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (CDVSA), testified that CDVSA does not oppose SB 4 and agrees with the concept. MS. MAEHARA stated that there are currently 22 agencies across the state providing victims' advocacy in addition to the victim/witness coordinators provided by the Department of Law. Her concern is that a new victims' advocacy service may compete for the limited state and federal resources currently available. Number 559 MS. SUSAN BROWNE, Administrator of the Violent Crimes Compensation Board, thanked the committee and SENATOR HALFORD in particular for the work on victims' rights issues. MS. BROWNE reported that SB 4 will increase the statutory limit on compensation and therefore the Violent Crimes Compensation Board shows a positive fiscal note. MS. BROWNE commented that the section which allows an increase in compensation is difficult to understand. MS. BROWNE also noted SB 4 would require the board to adopt regulations, a new administrative task which would require time and some increase in bureaucracy. MS. BROWNE mentioned competition for funds is also a concern and SENATOR HALFORD replied competition for funds is not the intent. Number 523 SENATOR HALFORD modified his motion to include a technical change to the proposed amendment: the change from "could" to "would". Without objection it was determined this was merely a technical amendment to Amendment #1 and the amendment was changed to "would". SENATOR ELLIS asked about the $50,000 limit on compensation and MR. HUBER explained SB 4 increases available compensation to $40,000 - $50,000 in cases of homicide and $20,000 - $25,000 in other cases and ties the level of compensation in the future to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). SB 4 also increases the number of people who become ineligible for the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD), thus increasing the total pool of available funds. Number 459 SENATOR ELLIS asked if this level of compensation is adequate and realistic. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR replied that there is no way to compensate for the true loss to victims, the dollar amount of compensation is only a guideline for the board to follow and the increase in the cap under SB 4 would be the first in many years. SENATOR ELLIS stated he shares CHAIRMAN TAYLOR'S concern about the distinction between suspects and victims. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR remarked that the advocates that will be hired will have to walk a very fine line. Number 423 SENATOR ELLIS asked if any other states are doing anything like this. MR. BRETT HUBER replied there is nothing specific regarding the distinction between victims and suspects. MR. HUBER noted that Alaska has a unique constitution in regard to victims' rights. He added that the qualifications for becoming an advocate are the same as those of a magistrate and require substantial experience with the criminal justice system. SENATOR HALFORD concluded this distinction is a matter that must be left to the discretion of the advocates since "under suspicion" is not a category that allows for the removal of any constitutional rights. Number 400 CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asked if there was any objection to Amendment #1 as modified. Hearing none, Amendment #1 passed. Number 395 SENATOR HALFORD moved CSSB 4(JUD) out of committee with individual recommendations. Without objection, it was so ordered.