State News

Criminal justice bills unanimously pass assembly, face scrutiny in senate

While the State Asssembly unanimously passed criminal justice reform bills, Sen. Fitzgerald, R-Juneau is hesitant as the bills come to the Senate.

Image By: Photos Courtesy of Greg Anderson (left) and Katie Scheidt

The State Assembly unanimously passed a series of anti-crime and prison restructuring bills Wednesday but this overwhelming support for the legislation, however is not felt as strongly in the state Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, is hesitant about the speed at which the bills were passed and supported by Gov. Scott Walker and Assembly leadership throughout the legislative process.

Among the bills passed by the Assembly, but not yet approved by the Senate, is an $80 million proposal to close down the controversial Lincoln Hills juvenile corrections facility and move inmates to more residential style incarceration closer to their families.

Additionally, the bill proposes a separate $350 million to be used to create another adult correctional facility, potentially using the soon-to-be vacant Lincoln Hills site.

The Assembly, which ends its session on February 23, cited the closing window of opportunity to pass the bills for why they approved the measures so quickly.

"There is no doubt that we know we need an additional facility," Majority House Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said. "We're just speeding up that process.”

The large swath of support for the bill comes after recent reports of wrongdoings within the Lincoln Hills school that garnered increased legislative and media attention.

If the bills are not heard in the Senate by Friday, Senate lawmakers will be able to debate and vote on the action when legislative session resumes March 13.

Additionally, Vos is confident the bills, including the reallocation of funds and planning to Lincoln Hills, will be passed in the Senate and is vouching for a speedy response because “we're going to end up [passing the legislation] next session anyway.”

The Senate has until the end of the day today to decide whether to hear and vote on the bills before the legislative session ends.

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