- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - The Alaska House on Wednesday passed a bill designed to strengthen the state’s Military Code of Justice.

The approval came 17 months after a scathing report on Alaska’s National Guard highlighted issues with favoritism, misconduct and a lack of confidence in the organization.

“The guard came forward with a clear need, following the problems with misconduct that were brought to light,” said Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, and chair of the House Judiciary Committee. “Command simply has no way to punish people similar to active duty servicemen and women. Our committee’s bill will allow them to maintain good order and discipline.”

Alaska’s code was established in 1955 but a federal investigation found that most members of the guard were unaware that it existed. It has not been used to court martial anyone in half a century.

Proponents said the state’s current code lacked enforcement capability for the Alaska National Guard for any crime that could be tried by civil authorities.

“It has not been clear what constitutes an offense, who is responsible for prosecuting and pursuing such offenses and what punishments are authorized,” said Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River.

The new bill calls for potential jail time and dishonorable discharge for crimes such as writing bad checks, breach of peace and indecent exposure. It also includes several sections that apply to cases typically handled by civilian authorities including sexual assault and drunk driving.

While the changes would empower the state’s national guard to prosecute more crimes committed by service members than is currently allowed, the guard’s prosecution process is limited to a maximum of up to ten years in jail and - unlike the federal Uniform Code of Military Justice - Alaska’s guard would not be able to impose a death sentence.

The bill passed 39-0 with one member absent. It next goes to the Senate.

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