Yesterday (4/19/2018) the Senate Finance Committee heard public testimony on Senate Bill (SB) 127, a bill that effectively repeals the unpopular crime reform bill SB 91. I was not planning on testifying but after hearing what some on the finance committee were saying, I decided to say what I don’t hear many saying. After, I was encouraged by some people to publish my testimony. Below is a summary of my testimony, I made some changes for the purpose of this article.
Testimony on SB 127
Everyone is concerned about the rise in crime. Many people blame Senate Bill (SB) 91. But SB 91 is not the real culprit. Years of cutting funds for public safety, the department of behavioral health, and the department of law have a lot more to do with it than SB 91.
We treat drug addiction like a criminal problem, instead of a medical one. Most of the rise in crime is due to people stealing in order to get drugs.
I hear no one talking about holding the doctors and pharmaceutical companies accountable for years of over prescribing opiate pain killers. Hell, the drug companies even told doctors in the early 90s that opiate pain killers are not addicting.
Then our political geniuses finally decided it was a problem, and cut off the ability for addicts to go to the pharmacy and get the pain killers they are addicted to. But they left them no way to get the drugs. What did they think would happen?
The truth is, the crime problem is in large part due to the failure of our law makers. The rise started before SB 91 – when they gutted public safety budgets and refused to fund treatment while Alaska’s substance abuse crisis ravaged beyond a manageable point. They can blame SB 91, but they made it nearly impossible for cops and troopers to do their jobs, left prosecutors with no choice but to let crimes go unpunished, and furthermore refused to address Alaska’s fiscal crisis and instead relied on cutting crucial public services to the bone – contributing to a spike in unemployment and a lack of hope among our citizens.
There are few, if any, options for most addicts to get treatment, and not enough prosecutors or public defenders to adequately address crime. And contrary to what many seem to want, we don’t have the money to just lock up everyone who has a drug addiction.
The truth is, many of our legislators are worried that they are up for re-election this year, and their main concern is losing an election. Shame on all of the legislators who think that way. Instead of actually doing things that will help solve the problem, they appear to be doing what the public wants, while in reality doing nothing at all except talking. That’s not leadership. That is fear and weakness.
Officials from the Department of Law that previously testified, who actually understand the criminal justice system, said changes some changes need to be made but a full repeal of SB 91 would be catastrophic. It appears the members of the committee didn’t want to hear that they have been part of the problem. So some of the senators responded by making condescending remarks to the attorney general. What does that accomplish?
Nelson Mandela spoke a lot about leadership. He said sometimes leaders have to make tough or unpopular decisions, and it is their job to explain those decisions to the people. Elected officials who are guided by fear of losing an election or fear of being unpopular are not real leaders.
I sympathize with victims of crime. On Halloween 2012, a good friend of mine was shot and killed outside of a downtown Anchorage bar while he was trying to help a woman who was being assaulted. My last memory of him was looking at his lifeless body while I was performing CPR and trying to save his life. I often think about how he would still be alive if there were cops outside the bar as it closed on that busy night.
How about taking real steps to address our problems instead of just speaking in campaign platitudes.