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Volume 34
Issue 47
 
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Alaskan lawmakers defy state Supreme Court over domestic partner benefits - Governor Murkowski to leave decision about court order to Gov.-elect
Alaskan lawmakers defy state Supreme Court over domestic partner benefits - Governor Murkowski to leave decision about court order to Gov.-elect
by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

Alaskan lawmakers thumbed their nose at the Alaska State Supreme Court on Monday, ending their seven day special session without taking steps to obey a court imposed deadline that mandates the state provide benefits to same-sex partners of state employees. Instead, they took steps to derail the process.

In addition to passing resolution asking the court for more time -- which carries not legal weight - the legislature passed a bill that prohibited the adoption of new regulations outlining the process for bestowing domestic partner benefits. However, the bill would not take affect until after the court imposed deadline has passed. Another bill, which also passed, was aimed at building support for an amendment to the state constitution to invalidate the court ruling. However, a constitutional amendment would take at least two years.

Gov. Frank Murkowski favors a public vote on the issue. "Unfortunately, once the Supreme Court issues a decision interpreting the Constitution we are really left with two choices, implement the decision or amend the Constitution," he said in a written statement on Tuesday. "The Legislature has taken a step forward by asking the people, through an advisory vote, whether they wish to pursue a constitutional amendment. I hope the court system has the patience to respect the democratic process and delay implementation until the people have the opportunity to speak through the ballot."

The Alaska Supreme Court ruling that it is unconstitutional for the state to continue to deny Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender state employees and retirees access to equal benefits for their domestic partners came after a legal challenge from the ACLU of Alaska, which represented nine same-sex couples and their families. The court found the state was in violation of the constitution's guarantee of equal protection

"We are so pleased that the Alaska Supreme Court has recognized that same-sex couples form families and make lasting commitments just like different-sex couples, and that it's unfair to deny Lesbian and Gay state employees the compensation their straight colleagues receive," said Michael W. Macleod-Ball, Executive Director of the ACLU of Alaska, in a written statement last month.

The Department of Administration has taken steps to abide by the court order, including developing eligibility criteria based on those adopted by the University of Alaska. However, Murkowski announced on Tuesday that he will leave the final decision on whether or not to provide the benefits to the incoming Governor-elect, Sarah Palin. Palin has not said how she will act, but will have only two and half weeks to make a decision.

"The governor's action today to delay implementation will give our new administration the opportunity to get a team in place to review our options," said Palin in a written statement.

According to Department of Administration Commissioner Scott Nordstrand, the new benefits would raise the state's health plan costs by half a percent. About a dozen states - including Washington -- and a growing number of government organizations and municipalities offer such benefits.

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