Two weeks ago, the Alaska legislature gaveled out in Juneau, marking the end of the 33rd legislature and the 2024 session. Since January, we’ve worked to ensure that the legislature passes bills that expand and uphold constitutionally guaranteed freedoms for all Alaskans. We also worked against legislation that harms Alaskans and erodes our rights.  

Nearly 700 bills were introduced during the two-year legislative cycle, and many of them intersected with Alaska’s constitution. But we devoted most of our time to legislation related to the criminal legal system, attacks on queer and transgender Alaskans, elections reform, and our First Amendment rights. Here’s how things turned as the clock ran out. 

Criminal Legal Reform    

Deaths in custody

At the beginning of this year, we listed oversight and accountability for deaths in Alaska’s prisons as a top priority. Unfortunately, we got neither oversight nor accountability after a hearing on the issue was shut down. In March, members of our staff traveled to Juneau as invited testimony for a hearing in the House Community and Regional Affairs committee, which was scheduled to consider the issue of the record number of deaths that have been occurring within Alaska’s Department of Corrections (DOC) and proposed solutions. 

But Committee Vice Chair Kevin McCabe objected to the hearing, which was properly noticed by Committee Chair CJ McCormick, citing a procedural rule that the legislature should not debate or discuss a matter awaiting adjudication before a judicial tribunal. Let’s get this out of the way: we’re not experts in Mason’s Legislative Manual, where the rule exists. But if this rule means the committee couldn’t hear about deaths in custody from us because of ongoing litigation, then the legislature probably should have stopped the Department of Corrections commissioner from talking about deaths in custody multiple times since litigation was initiated. And the legislature shouldn’t have been talking at all about correspondence school allotments, devoted time in House Resources to a proposed constitutional amendment about subsistence rights, or any other number of matters with adjacent active litigation. 

The purpose of the hearing was to listen to experts and Alaskans impacted by the record number of deaths in DOC facilities and did not focus on a particular legal case. Still, the committee voted 4-3 against holding the hearing, and Chair McCormick was forced to adjourn the meeting. Plucking a rule out of a rulebook to prevent a hearing from taking place is pure politics, not principle. And what happened left families of people who have died in prison reeling, our staff silenced, and the legislature less informed. 

The topic surfaced again during House debate on the budget in mid-April, when several members expressed the importance of the issue and being able to debate it. An amendment by Rep. Donna Mears, seeking to establish an internal affairs unit, was tabled by a 21-19 vote – meaning the legislature didn’t discuss it on the merits, once again limiting the conversation. 

We shared the testimony and a report by Jacqueline F. Shepherd, our Prison Project Intake Attorney who was scheduled to testify as the investigator of each death that occurs in a DOC facility. Because her experience is critical to understanding the deaths that are occurring, we want to ensure that the stories of the Alaskans who have died and their families are being brought to light and are never forgotten. The same week that the legislature came to a close, Robert Price-Schruefer, 39, died at Anchorage Correctional Center. Robert was incarcerated for four days before he died and is the 7th Alaskan to die while in Department of Corrections custody this year. Our work to prevent deaths like Robert’s is ongoing, and we will continue to push for the legislature to hold DOC accountable its practices that are killing Alaskans. 


Another pre-session goal was working to advance SB 176, a parole reform measure introduced by Sen. Löki Gale Tobin. The bill would take critical steps to ensure that incarcerated people appearing before the parole board receive fair consideration. It would change the composition of the board to include people who can more accurately assess an applicant’s growth and likelihood of succeeding upon release.  

The bill would also achieve a more appropriate balance between the punitive and rehabilitative purposes of Alaska’s criminal legal system, by addressing the board’s quasi-judicial authority to substitute its views about how much prison time is “enough” for those of the legislature and the courts. This authority is used to keep eligible people who have served sentences required by law and demonstrated their fitness to return to their families and communities incarcerated. 

The Senate State Affairs Committee heard the bill on March 7, when Prison Project Director Megan Edge and Sylvester Byrd Jr., who was granted parole in 2022 after being incarcerated for over 30 years, provided invited testimony.  

While the bill was not heard again by the committee, this was the first year that SB 176 was introduced and considered. New bills and ideas tend to take time to pass, especially when they change the status quo. We plan on working to advance the bill further next session and demonstrate that trying something other than longer punishments can result in lower costs to taxpayers, lower recidivism rates, healthier families, and safer communities. 

Omnibus crime bill  

When we say "status quo," what happened in the last weeks of session is what we mean. The Senate Judiciary Committee rolled a handful of separate criminal legal system bills into an “omnibus” that doubles down on the state’s “lock them up and throw away the key” strategy to public safety. Unfortunately, the bill – HB 66 – passed with broad support, demonstrating that being “tough on crime” is still politically popular headed into election season.  

Here are the main provisions we opposed and are poised to go into effect:  

  • Drug-induced homicide.  The bill used as the vehicle for the omnibus, HB 66, started out as a bill introduced by the governor focused on addressing overdose deaths by charging people who distribute drugs that lead to death with murder. Legislation like this has been advanced across the country but has not been shown to reduce overdose deaths. It will reduce resources the state can use for more effective strategies like substance misuse prevention, ensuring access to high-quality treatment, and recovery support.   
  • Involuntary commitment. This provision establishes a framework that would allow a person to be subject to an involuntary commitment period of two years, prohibit petitions for early discharge prior to 180 days of an initial commitment order, and require court approval of a doctor’s discharge decision. The measure came from SB 53, which was introduced in response to the attack on Angela Harris at the Loussac Library. While that attack called for the need to improve Alaska’s civil commitment system, the bill ‘solves’ the problem in a way that will violate Alaskans’ constitutional rights to due process and seeks to eliminate the risk of harm by warehousing mentally ill Alaskans.  
  • Hearsay in grand juries. This provision allows hearsay to be included in all grand jury proceedings, which are used to determine whether the state can prosecute a felony charge. Currently, there are some circumstances in which hearsay is accepted, for example, if a child is a witness or victim of a crime.  This provision severely undermines the grand jury’s critical function of ensuring the state has sufficient evidence to require a person to stand trial for a serious criminal charge. The provision in this omnibus will swing the door wide open to hearsay.  

Queer and Trans Justice 

This year we saw more attempts in the Alaska legislature to bring the nationwide wave of anti-LGBTQIA2S+ legislation to the state, as the House used copious amounts of time to put the lives of Alaskans up for debate. Still, Alaskans were loud and delivered a consistent message: queer, transgender, and two-spirit Alaskans are loved and welcomed.  

Sending this message was a big reason why none of these harmful bills became law,  along with a Senate majority that did not use its time the same way. In the last week of session,  the House moved HB 183, introduced by Rep. Jamie Allard. The bill would have excluded transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports, similar to a policy that has already been adopted by the Department of Education & Early Development in the fall of 2023. Despite widespread opposition from the public, expressed opposition by the Senate, and an opinion from the legislature’s own legal counsel that the bill likely violated the Constitution, the House majority made it a priority. Opponents in the House arranged a series of amendments to filibuster the bill, which went through hours of agonizing debate. Ultimately, the House passed it before the Senate put it on a shelf. 

Various other bills we were watching did not advance as far as HB 183. These included HB 105, a so-called “parental rights” bill introduced by the governor in 2023—it had many hearings last year but none in 2024, and HB 338, a bill aimed at making gender-affirming care less accessible.  

While we are glad that none of these passed into law, and that so many Alaskans spoke out, we can’t underscore enough that it’s harmful for the legislature to even consider bills like these. In hearing after hearing and in floor speeches, some lawmakers repeatedly made LGBTQIA2S+ Alaskans and their loved ones endure ugly and cruel rhetoric. We’re grateful for the members of the legislature who fought against that trend and demonstrated care and love. 


One of the most nail-biting moments involved elections reform, which was one of the last things the legislature debated before gaveling out.  

During the last several sessions, the legislature has worked on and nearly passed an election reform package. This year these efforts culminated in HB 129, a voter roll maintenance bill that was the vehicle for a series of reforms found in other bills, including establishing a ballot curing system and removing the witness signature requirement from absentee ballots. We were opposed to the original version of HB 129 on its own because of concerns about the disproportionate impact on rural voters and Limited English Proficient voters, but the addition of multiple positive provisions moved us to a place of support.  

While the Senate passed the bill on the final day of session, setting up a possible vote in the House, the bill didn’t have the support it needed to pass before time ran out. And unfortunately for voters, Alaska will head into another election season susceptible to the problems that led to thousands of ballots being thrown out in 2022.

First Amendment

The governor’s bill to stifle protest, HB 386/ SB 255, was another flash point of the session. The bill would have used criminal and financial penalties to both chill and punish speech, and was a clear violation of the First Amendment. 

While the bill moved through several committees, public testimony opposing the idea was so fierce and so consistent that legislative leaders didn’t move the bill and couldn’t move it quietly. We’d like to thank the Alaskans who weighed in and provided testimony against HB 386/ SB 255, making it clear to decision-makers that this was a bad call for Alaskans.  

The conclusion of the 2024 Alaska legislative session left us with mixed feelings: frustrated that bills that won’t help Alaskans passed into law, relieved that hateful and discriminatory legislation failed to move forward, and hopeful for the work to come to improve systems and communities that we care about in Alaska.  

We’d like to thank each and every action taker who called elected officials, sent emails, showed up to testify- and did so over and over again. We look forward to building greater partnerships this summer and fall and continuing to grow our advocacy network so that we can hit the ground running in 2025.