Legislature(1995 - 1996)
04/18/1995 10:10 AM HES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 226 - MARITAL STATUS AND RETIREMENT BENEFITS Number 071 REPRESENTATIVE PETE KELLY, sponsor of HB 226, noted that since he had testified on this bill in the HESS Committee when it was first heard, and since many people wanted to testify, he would refrain from speaking again. CO-CHAIR BUNDE appreciated Representative Kelly's consideration, and asked him to be available for questions. Co-Chair Bunde also requested all testimony be limited to two minutes. Number 155 THOMAS OWENS, JR. testified via teleconference from Anchorage that he was speaking at the request of Representative Kelly to provide HESS Committee members with information about the litigation from which the bill arose. Mr. Owens said he was not testifying on the behalf of the University of Alaska, although he was a member of the counsel for the university in the Tumeo-Wattum case. That case is currently on appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court. MR. OWENS noted that the case involved an application by Tumeo and Wattum for health care coverage for their domestic partners under the university health care program. That coverage was denied because the domestic partners are not spouses. The definition of dependents under the health care plan is limited to spouses and dependents. Tumeo and Wattum appealed to the Superior Court. MR. OWENS recalled that the Superior Court made a very straightforward analysis, holding that Alaska Statute 18.80.200 prohibits discrimination in a term or condition of employment based on marital status. The court held that denying health care coverage to the domestic partners of Tumeo and Wattum on the basis that they were not married constituted discrimination based on marital status. Number 269 MR. OWENS said that was the essence of the court's analysis. Clearly, the analysis of the court stands on the proposition that the statutory prohibition against discrimination based on marital status is absolute. There can be no discrimination based on marital status. MR. OWENS said this is not a matter of sex. It is a matter of marriage only in that being single or being married forms a basis for either granting or denying health care coverage to dependents of employees. Mr. Owens noted that the discrimination statute applies to all employers, not just public employers. Therefore, every employer in the state of Alaska providing health care coverage to spouses of employees will have to determine whether it can continue to provide health care coverage to spouses and domestic partners if the situation stands the way it is now under Judge Greene's (the judge in Tumeo and Wattum v. the State of Alaska) decision. MR. OWENS said he has done some computer research and has found 146 different provisions in the Alaska Statutes in which the legislature has required employers or the state to discriminate either for or against a particular individual based on whether or not he/she was married. Therefore, although AS 19.80 provides that no employer can discriminate on the basis of marital status, there are many other statutory provisions that require discrimination based on marital status. MR. OWENS noted that HB 226 simply addresses the issue of what kind of requirement this legislature is going to put on every employer in the state of Alaska as far as extending health care benefits and pension benefits. There are many statutory benefits on marital status as far as being eligible for pension benefits. Mr. Owens asked what kinds of requirements the law was going to put on every employer in the state of Alaska concerning extending these benefits to beyond dependents and spouses of employees. Number 511 MR. OWENS said if the situation stays the way it is now (without passage of HB 226), the possibility is raised that employers throughout the state will decide that because there is no limit on what kind of coverage they have to extend, they are not going to extend coverage at all. The employers may choose to just cover their employees. They may not cover spouses because if spouses are covered employers may have to cover nonspousal domestic partners, for example. MR. OWENS said there are many adverse consequences that could result from leaving the situation as it presently stands. Mr. Owens understood HESS Committee members had received information to the effect that this situation was simply an administrative matter that involves public employers. That is not the case at all. The prohibition against discrimination based on marital status and the other statutory provisions which call for discrimination based on marital status apply throughout the state. Number 589 MR. OWENS concluded that it is really a question of what kind of impositions the legislature wants to put on employers, large and small, public and private, throughout the state of Alaska as far as extending benefits like health care coverage and pension benefits to persons other than their direct employees. Number 624 CO-CHAIR CYNTHIA TOOHEY said no matter what is done in the state, a small business would not be precluded from offering benefits to a couple that do not choose to be married but are legally and economically tied to each other. She asked Mr. Owens if that statement was correct. MR. OWENS said she was correct. The employer gets to define the extent of the coverage it will extend to its employees. It is up to the employer to decide if it will voluntarily extend that coverage to unmarried, economically dependent partners if it so desired. Number 674 AMY YOUNG, Co-Chair, Equality under Alaskan Law (EQUAL), testified via teleconference from Anchorage that lately any time she opens the newspaper she sees that more budget cuts are being made by the legislature. Cuts are being made in valuable programs such as public broadcasting to rural communities. Ms. Young has lived in rural Alaska, and she knows what a lifeline public television can be. Yet, the HESS Committee members were currently spending valuable resources on a bill that is unnecessary. MS. YOUNG said the courts have already decided what is fair. Discrimination based on marital status is wrong. Ms. Young said the Alaska Human Rights Act was established to protect Alaskan citizens from discrimination. Legislation should not be started only to make exceptions. MS. YOUNG asked to make a point about Mr. Owens' statement about employees. Ms. Young does not think it is fair to pay married people more than single people. She thinks there will be some dramatic changes in employment law in the coming years on that point. Ms. Young urged HESS Committee members to oppose HB 226 unless Representative Robinson's amendment (the Robinson amendment) is included. Number 754 TYSON NEVIL testified via teleconference from Fairbanks that he was definitely opposed to HB 226 unless it was passed with the Robinson amendment. He felt this bill should be opposed because it basically is an issue of legislating morality under the guise of supposedly protecting private industry from assuming the rare burden of benefits for employees' domestic partners. It is discrimination on the basis of marital status as far as pay goes. Benefits are a part of compensation for work done in a particular work situation. MR. NEVIL said HB 226 will institute a formal position that it is okay to discriminate because one person chooses to be married in a traditional format, while another chooses to be make a nontraditional commitment. This bill is an effort to economically coerce people into traditional bonds of marriage. That is wrong. MR. NEVIL spoke to Mr. Owens' comments. Mr. Nevil said just because precedents in the past have established that it is okay to discriminate on the basis of marital status does not mean that it is right to do so. Many things in the past have been overturned because society has reached the point where it has discovered that what has occurred in the past is wrong. Such precedents, while they may exist, do not provide a basis for saying it is okay to discriminate. Number 864 REPRESENTATIVE CAREN ROBINSON noted that people have been referring to the amendment she brought forward in the State Affairs Committee meeting on this bill. She felt it may be helpful to at least hand out the amendment to other HESS Committee members so the amendment can be in their packets. CO-CHAIR BUNDE agreed the amendment should be handed out. Number 900 LAURA BURLESON testified via teleconference from Fairbanks. She urged HESS Committee members to vote against HB 226 as it currently stands. As this bill stands, it provides for special compensation for married people at the expense of people who are not married in the traditional sense. This is unfair to the citizens of Alaska, and it is unfair especially in light of the Tumeo-Wattum case. MS. BURLESON said unless HB 226 includes the Robinson amendment providing for domestic partnership, HB 226 provides special rights for one group at the expense of another. This conflicts directly with the human rights laws of the state of Alaska. Number 950 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY asked Mr. Owens a question. She said her sister and her life-mate have never married, and they both have been previously divorced and have children. They have lived together for 36 years. Their last will and testament is to leave all worldly possessions to the living partner. Co-Chair Toohey asked if this was legal considering they were not married. MR. OWENS said yes. If a will is drafted, one can leave his/her worldly possessions to whomever he/she wants. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY asked if the beneficiary can be under any guise, such as spouse, life-mate, etc. MR. OWENS said yes. A will must be drafted, leaving worldly possessions to whomever the deceased wishes. However, a problem arises if there is no will. This is a good example of statutory provisions adopted by the legislature that cover other situations where there is discrimination based on marital status. For example, under the laws concerning what happens when one dies without a will, the property passes to the spouse. A marital relationship is required. Property does not pass to the unmarried domestic partner of the person who has died. That is an example of a statutory provision in Alaska State laws that exist currently that discriminate based on marital status. There are many, many more of these laws. Number 1055 REPRESENTATIVE AL VEZEY noted that there is a certain amount of property that stays with the spouse in the event there is no will. He asked if that was true. He understood that one cannot take all assets out of the marital estate, that one cannot disinherit one's spouse. He understood that state law requires at least one-third of the estate goes to the spouse. MR. OWENS said Representative Vezey was speaking about the instance in which there is no will. Mr. Owens said under the laws of succession in such a case, the spouse automatically gets a portion of the estate. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY said it was his understanding that a person must, under state law, leave at least one-third of an estate to a spouse, unless the spouse agrees to the contrary. MR. OWENS did not know the answer to that question. CO-CHAIR BUNDE was aware of state retirement programs, in which one is not allowed to disinherit one's spouse. The retirement program cannot be changed to exclude the spouse without the spouse's permission. Number 1143 REPRESENTATIVE KELLY asked Mr. Owens if he was familiar with the Robinson amendment. Mr. Owens said he was. Representative Kelly began to speak to his concerns on the amendment. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY interrupted and noted that the amendment has not been yet brought before the committee. CO-CHAIR BUNDE agreed, and asked Mr. Owens if he was going to be available for awhile to answer questions. Mr. Owens said yes. Co- Chair Bunde said after testimony was finished, the amendment would be addressed. At that time, there may be questions for Mr. Owens. Number 1186 MARK TUMEO, Professor, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and plaintiff in Tumeo and Wattum v. the University of Alaska, testified via teleconference from Fairbanks. He thanked HESS Committee members for the time and consideration they have shown him and this bill. MR. TUMEO had prepared two fact sheets which were included in the bill packets. The fact sheets disprove some of the economical and legal arguments which have been put forward by the sponsor of the bill as the underpinning for this piece of legislation. Mr. Tumeo found the claim that private companies will be affected by the judge's decision very disturbing, and he also was displeased with the claim that there will be an onslaught of lawsuits. MR. TUMEO noted with all due respect to Mr. Owens that Mr. Owens does have a vested interest in portraying the case a certain way. Contrary to the sponsor's and Mr. Owens' supporting statements, private companies will not be affected from this lawsuit. In 1974, the U.S. Congress passed an Employee security act. This Act had an exemption clause that was extremely broad as far as any state regulation of employee benefits, even in the areas where the Act itself made regulation. Number 1255 MR. TUMEO gave an example based on legal analysis. A state could pass a law that medical insurance benefits might be extended to domestic partners of full-time workers. The federal act would pre- empt that law. Any state law that even relates to an employee benefit program, no matter how tenuous that relationship might be, is presumptively prevented by the federal act. There are a few exceptions. A state can garnish pension to pay back child support or alimony orders, for example. MR. TUMEO said the judge's decision in Tumeo-Wattum v. the State of Alaska can only apply to university employees. Furthermore, domestic partnerships are not a substitute for marriage, and can no way demean or lessen the sanctity of marriage. There are numerous privileges and benefits that a marriage license provides that cannot be gained through other contractual relationships such as domestic partnerships. Number 1300 MR. TUMEO would like to believe that Representative Kelly's bill arose from economic and legal concerns, as Representative Kelly claims. If that were the case, the facts would make it abundantly clear that HB 226 is unnecessary, and the sponsor would withdraw it. At the very least, Representative Kelly would accept the proposed Robinson amendment, because it eliminates any kind of financial concerns. Domestic partnerships will be established as eligible for benefits. The amendment would also assure that the human rights act of the state is not gutted. MR. TUMEO felt the Robinson amendment was one of those rare instances in which the legislature will find itself in a win-win situation. Number 1336 MR. TUMEO said HB 226 is the antithesis of a conservative American value, upon which conservatives hold high an individual's willingness to commit to lifelong relationships and take care of their loved ones. The bill has elicited strong debate and emotions. It has taken up hours of time. Mr. Tumeo has personally received harassing phone calls because he has dared stand up in opposition to this bill. Mr. Tumeo asked HESS Committee members to kill this bill, and recognize that one representative's religious views are not a reason to discriminate against people who are in strong family units contributing to society. Number 1370 TRAVIS BRAZILLE testified via teleconference from Fairbanks that he would like HESS Committee members to kill HB 226 unless the Robinson amendment is adopted. Number 1392 KATE WATTUM, Professor, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and plaintiff in Tumeo-Wattum v. the University of Alaska, testified via teleconference from Fairbanks that she has heard much testimony in favor of Mr. Tumeo and herself. She is a little disappointed to hear Mr. Owens say he is not representing the university when in fact, he is. MS. WATTUM's biggest concern is a personal issue. No one has investigated the validity of her or Mr. Tumeo's claim that the people in question are, in fact, their domestic partners. No one has asked Ms. Wattum what her life is like, and what she does day to day. No one has questioned whether Beverly McClendon is, in fact, legally obligated to Ms. Wattum, and Ms. Wattum to Beverly. That is frustrating. No one wants to ask if Ms. Wattum and her partner are going to be in each other's lives until death. Ms. Wattum said she and Beverly are committed to that degree. Number 1435 MS. WATTUM said the amendment to the bill will allow her and others like her to have an avenue for continued support. She does not feel it will be recognized by anyone in the near future, but it will help her make wise career decisions, not having to worry about being covered by employee benefits. MS. WATTUM said this issue is very personal to her. She said people are continually telling her not to take this bill personally, that this bill is not about her. She told the HESS Committee members this bill was about her. It was about her life. Number 1474 ROBERT MILLER testified via teleconference from Fairbanks that HB 226 is a complete slap in the face to a large number of people in the Alaskan communities. There are a large number of people in domestic partnerships who could really use the equality. People like Tumeo and Wattum are not asking for special treatment. They are simply asking to be treated like everyone else. Mr. Miller did not understand why it is okay for a male-female couple to get married in a very short time and automatically receive many benefits. MR. MILLER noted that yet, a couple like Ms. Wattum and Beverly McClendon, who have been together for many years, who share much and have promised to spend the rest of their lives together, cannot have those benefits. MR. MILLER asked HESS Committee members to put in the Robinson amendment if they do pass HB 226. He asked HESS Committee members to allow for equality. Number 1533 BEVERLY McCLENDON requested via teleconference from Fairbanks that HB 226 not be passed unless the Robinson amendment is included. She is truly concerned about the precedents that may be set when the legislature begins writing exceptions into the state's human rights act. MS. McCLENDON said memories of Nazi Germany haunt her when she realizes how slowly people's rights can be eroded until a monster is created. Ms. McClendon asked why benefits and this bill have been crafted to benefit only spouses and dependents in the first place. She thinks one of the reasons benefits were originally extended was to assure the financial security of the family unit, thus allowing an employee to remain a productive member of the workforce. MS. McCLENDON said security is important, no matter how one defines a family. A concern of proponents of this bill is that anyone can come forward and claim to be a domestic partner. Therefore, employers will be forced to pay benefits to many people. Ms. McClendon does not feel that is true. The Robinson amendment specifically defines domestic partnerships as long-term, committed, financially interdependent relationships. That is what the amendment is trying to protect. MS. McCLENDON asked to respond to Co-Chair Toohey's concerns about wills and the death of a partner versus that of a spouse. She said that concerns relationships after death, and she is hoping to protect people while they are still alive. MS. McCLENDON also wanted to address concerns that there will be many people rushing to sign up for benefits if this bill is not passed. The reality is, if one is not in a traditional marriage, there is still an incredible amount of stigma in our society. Many people will not come forward and publicly identify their partners because of that stigma. The ones that do come forward are those whose financial concerns have forced them into it. They are thus willing to take the risk. Number 1631 MS. McCLENDON concluded by saying it was of utmost importance to leave the human rights statutes intact. She asked HESS Committee members to let the bill die a quiet death, or to at least add the Robinson amendment. This amendment specifically defines what domestic partnerships are, and includes domestic partners in the benefits. In that way, security can be provided for all employees who are in committed, long-term, financially interdependent relationships. Number 1666 MICHAEL SCHMAHL testified via teleconference from Fairbanks in opposition to HB 226. HB 226 is an obvious attack on the human rights act. If passed, it would codify discrimination against unmarried couples even if they are financially, emotionally and otherwise interdependent. Any bill that begins by amending and restricting the human rights act is immediately suspect. MR. SCHMAHL said the bill provides for exceptions to the human rights act. Once the legislature starts making exceptions, the door is open to make any number of exceptions to the human rights code. The author of this bill claims it protects against any number of people who would claim to be domestic partners. That is simply not true. Organizations that do provide benefits to domestic partners have not seen a dramatic rise in the number of people applying for benefits. MR. SCHMAHL urged HESS Committee members to kill HB 226. If it must be moved, he asked that the Robinson amendment be passed. Number 1749 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY took a moment to read some statistics she requested from Reed Stoops, who is the lobbyist for AETNA Insurance. "If domestic partners are insured, AETNA's nationwide estimate is that it would add 340 new members per 100,000 presently covered. The additional cost conservatively would be 2 percent for the first year without experience. After that, the additional cost would be an additional 1 percent or less. AETNA offers a domestic partner policy to 26 of its customers throughout the rest of the country." Number 1780 STEVEN JACQUIER testified via teleconference from Fairbanks against HB 226 as it stands. If passed without the Robinson amendment, the bill would have a negative impact on Alaska's economic well-being. It will have a negative impact on Alaska's image to the rest of the world, and it will negatively impact the quality of life all Alaskans enjoy. MR. JACQUIER said the economic reasoning being given in justification for this legislation is erroneous, as demonstrated by the actual concrete experience of states such as Vermont, New York and Massachusetts. Not only is the justification false, but if HB 226 is passed it will end up costing Alaska's economy a lot of money. Within the last couple of months, several other states have considered passing prejudicial legislation. The legislation has aimed to create special protections for some groups, while stigmatizing others. MR. JACQUIER said both South Dakota and Montana decided not to invite boycotts and subsequent losses of millions of dollars from the tourist industry for the sake of allowing a few legislators to curry favor and court votes among the right wing. Utah has made a different decision, and, just for starters, that decision will most likely cost the state of Utah the Olympics. Widespread boycotts of tourism, companies based in Utah and products manufactured in Utah are beginning in communities across the United States. Number 1825 MR. JACQUIER stressed this legislation is economically unsound. At the root, it is quite simply and quite transparently to penalize Alaskans who do not share the sponsor's personal religious convictions. As such, this legislation is mean-spirited, small- minded, and shortsighted. This pending legislation has been widely discussed on the Internet computer news groups. That is just one of the many news groups which has been discussing HB 226, and has a daily readership of over 45,000 people nationwide. MR. JACQUIER said across the United States, people are definitely watching to see whether the Alaska State legislature will endorse a measure that creates special privilege. The late George Orwell, if faced with HB 226, might have said, "All Alaskans are equal, but some are more equal than others." MR. JACQUIER stated that the actions of HESS Committee members on this bill will have direct consequences on the degree to which it can be truthfully said that all men and women are equal in Alaska, not only in the sight of God, but under the law of the land. HESS Committee members' actions on this bill will also impact the perceptions of Alaska in the Lower 48, for good or ill. The state can realistically expect that perception to be reflected in the dollars that flow toward or away from Alaska. MR. JACQUIER urged HESS Committee members to vote no on this horrible piece of legislation. CO-CHAIR BUNDE closed teleconference testimony, making it listen- only. He also acknowledged the presence of Representative Brice, who arrived at the meeting at 10:15 a.m. Number 1888 PAM NEAL, President, Alaska State Chamber of Commerce (SCC), said she could not tell HESS Committee members how much she did not want to be before them. She did not want to sound mean-spirited or prejudiced. The position of the SCC is purely economic. She cannot stress that strongly enough. The SCC feels the state may suffer some economic impact from the position it is taking. However, the fact is that the number one priority of the SCC for this legislative session and for many past legislative sessions has been a reduction in state spending. The budget issue is very, very critical to the SCC. It is business that pays the taxes that keep the state afloat. MS. NEAL said it is business that sees the costs of state spending outstripping the revenues. Something has got to give. Therefore, the number one priority of the SCC is to reduce state spending by 5 percent each year until a sustainable level is reached, and the revenue is balanced. MS. NEAL said because of that, the SCC has a fear that should the state be extending benefits to unmarried partners, there will be a significant added cost to state employment. Number 2026 MS. NEAL said the other problem the SCC has is if the court has determined that it is unlawful to deny benefits based on marital status at the state level, how long will it be before there is a suit brought against a private employer within the state of Alaska because benefits were denied? If it is unconstitutional, it is unconstitutional. If it is illegal, it is illegal. The SCC knows, regardless of what the attorneys say now about who falls under the court decision and who does not, it is only a matter of time. MS. NEAL said the SCC has a concern that private employers will fall under this. The result will be that benefits will be denied to anyone but the employee. Those employers who are presently providing benefits for spouses or dependents will have to cease to do so. That is a real concern for the SCC. It will widen the gap between the opportunity for private employers to access the employment pool. MS. NEAL shared that yesterday her wonderful secretary gave Ms. Neal notice because she had procured a state job. Ms. Neal cannot compete with the benefits the state provides. The extension of benefits may only serve to widen that gap. MS. NEAL could not stress strongly enough that the SCC is completely neutral on the moral issue that is clouding HB 226. The concern of the SCC is purely economic. It is in fear of what the extension of benefits is going to do to the employment pool for private employers, and it fears what that will do to the increasing costs for the state budget. Number 2105 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON asked Ms. Neal if she has any statistics on how many private businesses that are part of the chamber provide health benefits. MS. NEAL said that was a vast majority. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON asked how many of those then also provide health benefits to family members. MS. NEAL answered that was also a very strong majority. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON asked if those numbers were documented, and if HESS Committee members could get copies of those numbers. MS. NEAL said that information was not documented, but she knew what companies belong to the chamber. The SCC represents probably all of the major employers in the state. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON asked if Ms. Neal knew if any of those companies provided any sort of domestic partnership benefits. MS. NEAL did not have any information on that. It has always been up to the employer as to whom it provided benefits. If the repercussions of this legal decision falls on private employers, many of them will simply quit providing benefits to those other than the employee. Number 2155 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON asked if the SCC understands that the court case decision does not affect private employers at all. Right now, the decision clearly only affects the university. MS. NEAL said she had heard testimony during the hearing on both sides, that the decision both impacts and does not impact private employers. Ms. Neal asked who to believe. However, the position of the SCC is that if the court has determined through case law that it is discrimination, then it will only be a matter of time before someone sues a private employer for discrimination. It has already been determined that the practice is discriminatory. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON noted that the courts have come up with two very easy remedies to that problem. Ms. Neal was not aware of those remedies. Representative Robinson said the court decision has clearly outlined two possible remedies. If there was to be a lawsuit against a private company, which has not happened at the moment, there are two very clear options presented. The first is that the private industry could offer benefits only to the employee. If it is desired that others are to be covered, the employee would have to pay for this. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON said the other option is the inclusion of a domestic partnership agreement within the agency. Number 2220 MS. NEAL said once again, the concern of the SCC is that it does recognize that private employers can only provide benefits to employees and no one else. The problem with that, as Ms. Neal expressed, is that there is already a gap between the salaries and benefits of the state versus those of the private industry. Government has gone into competition with private business by paying benefits that private industry cannot match. MS. NEAL said if domestic partnership agreements are added, the gap is being widened. The pool that private sector employers can draw from is what is left after the state has taken who they want. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON asked if the SCC would feel differently if it saw studies that clearly showed minimal impact. There are studies to this effect. There is a study out of Seattle which indicates that out of 10,000 employees, there was only a very small increase in enrollment and absolutely no increase in premium rates for insurance when domestic partners were included in the benefits package. MS. NEAL said in that area and in that arena, that minimal impact may be the case. However, there is no data which shows what is going to happen in the future. The bottom line is, the SCC does not want its businesses to be made any more noncompetitive than they already are. Number 2295 CO-CHAIR BUNDE noted the information from AETNA indicates rates would go up 2 percent, conservatively speaking. Perhaps it would go up an additional 1 percent each year. Those are certainly small numbers. Co-Chair Bunde does not have much experience in private industry. However, 2 percent of a large amount can be a large amount. He asked what kind of impact that would have on a company's bottom line. MS. NEAL said if those figures are spread across the board, industrywide, there are some companies who would not fall into that percentage at all. Perhaps the company does not employ someone who would apply for domestic partner benefits. The companies who do have many people applying for those benefits are going to have a higher percentage. The AETNA statistics show an average, across the board percentage. Some employers are going to be significantly impacted, and the SCC does not know from those figures how their companies are going to be impacted overall. TAPE 95-37, SIDE B Number 000 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY said most employers are not eligible for a group insurance policy. There are programs of insurance policies that are available to them. The individual coverages required are simply commercially evaluated and charged accordingly. Small businesses can join larger associations and participate in group insurance policies. Usually the rule there is that the individual risk of each applicant, not each employer, but each employee, is evaluated, and the employer is billed for that coverage. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY said from the private sector side, he is not aware of any "pool" a person can jump into to spread the risk. Every employer would bear the individual exposure. REPRESENTATIVE KELLY said his office has been in contact with AETNA, and he wanted to note that the figures read by Co-Chair Toohey from AETNA were estimates. That was the one clear thing Representative Kelly got out of AETNA, that those figures are rough estimates. This area is so new, the insurance company just does not know what the impact is going to be. Number 098 REPRESENTATIVE KELLY added for the record that Representative Robinson was referring to a study. The AETNA figures are an estimate, not a study. He does not know that he has studies on figures, but there are estimates. The word is that the estimates are extremely rough. CO-CHAIR BUNDE closed public testimony on the bill as it stands. He asked Representative Robinson to introduce her amendment. Number 149 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON moved amendment number one, and there was an objection for the purposes of discussion. Representative Robinson said she feels very strongly regarding the fact that the legislature should not be doing anything to erode the human rights laws at this point. She would prefer it if the committee would simply vote the bill down. However, if the bill is going to be moved, she would like the HESS Committee members to pass her amendment. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON stressed that she did not "dream up" this amendment. She tried to see what the judge's opinion was in the case of Tumeo-Wattum v. the University of Alaska. The judge clearly presents two options. One of those options is to eliminate spouses from the definition of dependents. That would require only the employee gets any benefits. That would be a major cost savings to the state, if the state is really concerned about money. However, that is not an option Representative Robinson would prefer. Number 253 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON said the second option presented by the judge was to rewrite the plan to state that dependents to whom the employee provides the majority of financial support include "spousal equivalents." Again, this is not something Representative Robinson came up with. The legislature recognizes spousal equivalents as people who have shared financial obligations and responsibilities by requiring them to submit ethics disclosure reports. This is already in the state laws. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON also looked into issues regarding common- law marriage. Representative Vezey in the past has inquired about whether Alaska had a provision recognizing common-law marriages in this state. Representative Robinson found out Alaska definitely does not recognize common-law marriages. She also found out that 14 other states and the District of Columbia have recognized common-law marriages. Common-law marriage is defined as people who represent themselves as married. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON said the common-law marriage laws have been around since the 1900s. Even Alaska looked at these laws in 1961 and 1962. However, the state determined not to move forward at that time. Number 356 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON continued that "domestic partners" have been around for a long time. Palimonies and related issues have been brought up in lawsuits for many years. In addition, many people have been presented with the kinds of studies that have taken place. The University of Iowa and the city of Seattle, the states of Massachusetts, Vermont and New York, 50 other cities and 60 other universities offer benefits to domestic partners. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON said therefore, this is not something that she is bringing forward that is unusual and new. This is simply recognizing that things change. There was a time when the state paid female teachers less than it paid male teachers. This was because it was felt that women were not the main providers for their families. It took laws and lawsuits to basically change that. It would have cost the state more money if the state was currently facing those issues. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON contended that her amendment just brings more people under the health insurance plans. Most people would agree this is important to do. Those added constitute a very small percentage, about 2 to 3 percent of people would qualify. All the studies Representative Robinson has seen show that including domestic partners does not increase the insurance rate. As far as she is concerned, including domestic partners solves the problem that the courts brought forward. Number 479 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON said the amendment primarily states that two people can set up as domestic partners. Two people are willing to sign a contract that says they are in a life-long relationship with a person. Within the amendment, there is also a series of criteria that must be met to show those people are planning on staying in an indefinite relationship with one person. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON conceded that the definition of "indefinite" is broad. However, she pointed out that the divorce rate in the United States is incredibly high. Unfortunately, any relationship is not always permanent. She feels, however, that the domestic partnership contract set about in the amendment will be just as solid an agreement. It is a way to be able to deal with the lawsuit that is before the state. It is also a way to stop lawsuits because the human rights act is not going to be eroded. Number 549 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON knows that Representative Kelly has contended that her amendment discriminates against people who have no money. Representative Robinson disagrees with that. Anybody can have and enter into a legally binding domestic partnership agreement. Representative Robinson went through the criteria posed in her amendment. She said anyone can jointly own a motor vehicle. The amendment does not say that the motor vehicle has to be a $30,000 car. It only has to be a car. Many people have cars. It is important to remember that everyone involved by the bill has to be employed. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON again stressed that only employed people are affected by this bill. The bill does not affect unemployed people. Representative Robinson offered to take HESS Committee members through all the provisions of the amendment, however, she thought they may want to read for themselves. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON said the amendment contains ten criteria, of which five must be met to establish domestic partnership. She feels adopting the amendment would be the better route to go if HB 226 is to be passed out of committee. Representative Robinson felt it was also important to note that the Alaska Supreme Court has already decided two cases involving discrimination based on marital status. The first issue involved landlords who were unwilling to rent to unmarried couples. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON had some very real fears that HB 226 was looking to eroding the human rights act supported in those cases. Number 647 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON had other concerns, and those concerns matched those of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) in that the HRC would only support HB 226 if it was clearly defined as pertaining to health insurance benefits only. As the bill is currently written, Representative Robinson does not think the bill has yet been narrowed. Right now, it affects all benefits. Even the HRC felt the bill needed to affect health insurance benefits only. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON held up a large, perhaps four-inch stack of Personal Opinion Messages and letters from people requesting that her amendment be brought forward. She said these requests and statements against HB 226 as it now stands is her reason for introducing the amendment. Number 721 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY stated he felt the amendment was terrible. He said to adopt the amendment and eventually put it into law would be essentially codifying common-law marriages in Alaska. Number 742 REPRESENTATIVE KELLY commented that he has some concerns about the amendment above and beyond the discrimination issues. The amendment does discriminate against people based on economic status. In addition, in Representative Robinson's own words, anyone can sign a domestic partnership agreement. Anyone can buy an old junk car. That is the problem. Representative Kelly did not want just anyone latching onto the employment benefits of the state or private industry. REPRESENTATIVE KELLY said that is why the amendment is a bad amendment, and the law passed down from the Superior Court was a bad law. CO-CHAIR BUNDE called for public testimony on the amendment. Number 798 DANIEL COLLISON, Vice President, Southeast Alaska Gay and Lesbian Alliance (SEAGLA), said as HB 226 has made its way through House committees, and its proponents have held that passage of the bill will avert ruinous financial burden to the University of Alaska Health Care plan. At this committee's last hearing, Mr. Collison presented testimony which showed those economic concerns were groundless. MR. COLLISON summarized that previous testimony. He said nearly 200 businesses, universities and public agencies now extend domestic partner benefits to their employees. There is no instance of domestic partner benefits ever proving to be an onerous burden to a health care plan. Overwhelmingly, the evidence suggests the opposite. When domestic partners are added to these plans, enrollment edges up by only 2 to 5 percent. Health care plans typically see trifling cost increases of between 1 and 3 percent. Number 864 MR. COLLISON continued that in most cases, health insurance premiums remain the same. At present, the debate has focused on the economic impact of domestic partner benefits on health care plans. Committee members would be wiser to explore the economic impact on the state of Alaska in the form of Medicaid costs of indigent citizens if the Robinson amendment does not pass. MR. COLLISON asked HESS Committee members to imagine for a moment the following scenario involving an unmarried couple with no legally recognized domestic partner status. One partner, Tom, receives health benefits through the University of Alaska (his employer). The second partner, Mary, is self-employed and carries no medical insurance. Imagine that Mary incurs a catastrophic medical bill. The hospital where Mary lies recuperating and the physicians who treated Mary expect payment even if Mary has no assets to cover the bills. MR. COLLISON said in the end, the state of Alaska will cover Mary's bills in the form of Medicaid reimbursements. Number 929 MR. COLLISON now asked HESS Committee members to imagine instead that Mary was insured with domestic partner benefits through Tom's employer, the University of Alaska. Mary's monthly premiums might perhaps cost several hundred dollars. The state of Alaska would be the unacknowledged beneficiary of Mary's domestic partner coverage. Mary's domestic partner benefits protect the state of Alaska from shouldering yet another Medicaid claim figuring into the tens of thousands of dollars. MR. COLLISON said a vote for the Robinson amendment is a vote for fiscal responsibility. Support for the amendment affirms the principle that sound health care plans depend on many individuals sharing the risks of health care costs. The amendment allows more Alaskans to contribute to the cost of the university health care plan. MR. COLLISON concluded by saying a vote against the amendment is a vote for higher Medicaid costs. In effect, the HESS Committee members would be accepting liability for the medical costs of indigent domestic partners. Mr. Collison urged the adoption of the Robinson amendment. Number 996 MARGARET BERCK, Attorney, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Alaska Chapter, said she has practiced law in Juneau since 1976. The ACLU is in support of the Robinson amendment if the committee is interested in passing HB 226. Ms. Berck asked to respond to Representative Vezey's assertions that the Robinson amendment would establish common-law marriage in Alaska. MS. BERCK prefaced her remarks by informing HESS Committee members that she has practiced a considerable amount of domestic and family relations law in Juneau since 1976. Representative Vezey is correct that spouses are entitled to one-third of their mate's estate under what was referred to "in the old days" as "the Widow's share" or the "elected share." In other words, if Ms. Berck had a will that left all her property to Representative Vezey, Ms. Berck's husband would be able to claim one-third of that estate. MS. BERCK said the heirship was forced. One cannot divulge him or herself of his/her entire estate without the spouse being left a percentage of that estate. The living spouse can waive their elective share. Those kinds of benefits that have been part of the English common law for centuries would not be affected by this bill. Number 1125 MS. BERCK said if she and her husband write wills and then have a child, that afterborn child, in some states, is entitled to take a percentage of the estate because the policy makers of the state have assumed the parents would have wanted to leave that child something. Number 1153 MS. BERCK said spouses like herself would continue to have a tremendous advantage both in the economic partnership and in other aspects. For example, the forced heirship, the widow's share (a.k.a. the spouse's elected share), etc., have been recognized by the court system in Juneau as little as five years ago. It may sound like an archaic law, but it is in effect today. Ms. Berck was involved in a case in which the husband sexually abused his child, and the mother/wife reported the abuse. The husband made out a new will, leaving all his property to his father and then committed suicide. MS. BERCK represented the wife in that case. She obtained her one- third share of that estate. If that woman had been involved in a domestic partnership or a common-law marriage, she would have been entitled to nothing. Ms. Berck has also represented domestic partners in what Representative Robinson referred to as "palimony suits." It is correct that Alaska does not recognize common-law marriages. However, if there are financial relationships, the best those people can get out is the cash they put in. MS. BERCK recounted some cases in the Alaska Supreme Court in which a person involved in a domestic partnership put up $10,000 to buy a condo in Hawaii. Five years later, the condo was worth five times the amount paid for it originally. A spouse would get a much nicer share of that. The domestic partner got back only her $10,000. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY said that would depend on who the domestic partner's attorney was. MS. BERCK countered that there is an Alaska Supreme Court decision that stipulates when domestic partnerships are untangled, the only amount of money one can take out is the cash that was put in. If the two people are married, and the wife stays at home while the husband works and has a successful business, the wife has equitable interest in that money. Domestic partners enjoy no such equity that is recognized by the courts. That is an Alaska Supreme Court decision. Whether your attorney finds that decision or not is a point to take into consideration. However, that is the law of the state of Alaska as it exists right now. That law cannot be bypassed, as long as the courts are aware of the Alaska Supreme Court decision. Number 1302 MS. BERCK said she believes it is legally incorrect to conclude that the domestic partnership definition and standards to be applied by employers in allotting benefits to employees would go so far as to create common-law marriages. There would still be 146 statutes to which Mr. Owens referred that set up people who are involved in marital relationships on a completely different level, with completely different rights, and often with much greater rights. MS. BERCK concluded that she felt the criteria and standards set up in the amendment seem to be drawn from real life experiences. When people are involved in an economic and loving relationship, these criteria are feasible. Ms. Berck spoke of a case in which a couple had lived together for many years, and that couple met all the criteria. The criteria, therefore, is compatible with what happens in real life. In addition, the criteria would reasonably and fairly cull out those frivolous relationships which the state would not want employers to be responsible for. Number 1398 REPRESENTATIVE TOM BRICE wondered if there was any testimony up in Fairbanks on the amendment. Co-Chair Bunde decided that since those people already testified, he was going to take testimony from Juneau first. Number 1415 SUSAN HARGIS, Representative, SEAGLA, said SEAGLA opposes HB 226 unless the Robinson amendment is attached. This bill was presented as an issue of cost to the state. Extensive materials supplied to HESS Committee members have shown that these fears are unfounded. Employers both larger and smaller than the state of Alaska have provided benefits to domestic partners without adverse cost impact. MS. HARGIS noted since the issue of cost has been thoroughly addressed and dispelled, SEAGLA urges HESS Committee members to either drop the bill or amend it to include the Robinson amendment. This amendment sets forth strict guidelines which will clearly separate true domestic partnerships from frivolous claims. It has worked in other areas without a "rush" of people signing up for benefits. MS. HARGIS was puzzled as to why there is a perception that in Alaska, people will rush to jump on the public dole. Ms. Hargis did not feel that would happen. Ms. Hargis said that the exclusion of amendment one would result in fewer children and families covered by health care, and they will be more likely to end up on state support if they have no other health care options. MS. HARGIS said SEAGLA further believes that passage of HB 226 without the Robinson amendment clearly sets up discrimination on the basis of marital status. That will continue to be contested in court. SEAGLA urged HESS Committee members to stop this bill and focus on matters of greater importance to Alaskans. Number 1486 MARSHA BUCK, Chairman, Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) of Juneau, has submitted a position paper in opposition to the bill. Ms. Buck said PFLAG would like to go on record as supporting the Robinson amendment. The amendment removes the discrimination that would prohibit the sons and daughters of PFLAG members to be in long-term, committed partnerships and receive benefits. MS. BUCK said her daughter and the daughter's partner live in Oregon, where her daughter's partner works as a teaching assistant while working on her master's at Oregon State University. Ms. Buck's daughter is covered under her partner's health insurance. That has been extremely helpful, particularly at a time when her daughter was looking for employment when the couple first moved to the university. At that time, the daughter had difficulty with allergies and needed medical care. The care was crucial at that time. MS. BUCK said at Oregon State, her daughter's coverage depends on two pieces of documentation out of a possible five. The Robinson amendment calls for five pieces of documentation out of a possible ten. At Oregon State, the five pieces of documentation include a joint checking account, a lease or rental agreement in both names, health care power of attorney, and beneficiary designation on a life insurance policy or a will. Those are the five criteria, and her daughter and her partner had to show two of those five. MS. BUCK added that at Oregon State, her daughter had to show financial dependency over six continuous months. If such a time provision were added to the Robinson amendment, perhaps that would address the concerns of Representative Kelly about possible frivolity in establishing partnerships. Number 1560 MS. BUCK noted the Robinson amendment is more restrictive than the provisions in Oregon, and the system has been found to be workable in Oregon, a state which is experiencing more financial difficulty than Alaska. The Oregon provisions have not caused undue financial stress on the state of Oregon. Number 1591 SARAH BOESSER, Representative, Committee for Equality, supports the Robinson Amendment with the clarification that HB 226 should only address health benefits in accordance with the Human Rights Commission's wishes. MS. BOESSER asked to correct a misconstruction of the amendment that Representative Kelly has made in the past. Representative Kelly has wrongly implied that the amendment would discriminate against possible domestic partners on the basis of their economic status. He could not be more wrong. Far from discriminating on a financial basis, a domestic partnership can be formalized at no cost, while a marriage license actually costs $25. Number 1620 MS. BOESSER said the Robinson amendment, also known as amendment one, lists ten potential criteria. To be qualified, a person must meet at least five of those criteria. Six of the criteria are completely free. Ms. Boesser spoke to each criteria. Entering into a legally binding domestic partnership agreement is free. Being designated as a primary beneficiary of life insurance is free. Being designated as a primary beneficiary of retirement benefits is free. Being designated as the beneficiary of a will is free. MS. BOESSER continued that being named under a durable health care or property power of attorney is free; having a co-parenting agreement is free. Six criteria, all at no cost. Therefore, protests that this amendment might economically discriminate against anyone should be firmly disregarded. MS. BOESSER said the remaining four criteria have little cost. Opening a joint checking account can be done for as little as five dollars. Adding a partner's name to a lease or deed can be free. Ownership of cars can incur with just a little paperwork, if one partner has a car. And, for people with credit, adding another person to an account or a liability is not an expense. Any employee could meet at least five with little or no money. MS. BOESSER noted that however, that doesn't necessarily lead to Representative Kelly's statement that just anyone can enter into a domestic partnership agreement. When one looks at the studies that have been done and notes the 1 to 3 percent increase in policy enrollment, one can deduce that even though it is free to enter into a domestic partnership, it takes people willing to commit to each other to pick up the tab and to support each other financially. This is not something people take lightly. MS. BOESSER concluded that when two people are committed to one another, one partner would like to be able to provide the other with benefits. The amendment is good, and it should be welcomed by HESS Committee members because it will guarantee that more people will be paying for health care and fewer people will be on Medicaid. This amendment does not challenge the institution of marriage because all it grants is health benefits. In addition, extensive research shows there is no economic impact in other states. MS. BOESSER said most importantly, by passing this amendment the human rights act is not being "gutted." She asked HESS Committee members to please pass amendment one. Without the amendment, HB 226 should die. Number 1734 MARY GRAHAM said she has agreed with previous testimony. She is on record as completely opposing HB 226 if the Robinson amendment is not included. She urged support for the amendment. Ms. Graham is especially concerned about the human rights act. Any law that begins with an exception to the human rights act opens the door for more exceptions. REPRESENTATIVE KELLY asked to comment on Ms. Boesser's testimony. Mr. Tumeo, who crafted the Robinson amendment, wrote to Representative Kelly that the whole idea of the amendment was to keep domestic partnerships from being frivolous. Representative Kelly's problem with the amendment is not that it is strictly economic. However, in the places where the amendment is not economic, it is frivolous. Where it is not frivolous, it is economic. REPRESENTATIVE KELLY said those ten criteria include economic criteria. But the other criteria included do not prevent the claims from being frivolous. Ms. Boesser said that signing a domestic partnership agreement has no cost, and designating someone as a beneficiary has no cost. That is true, those things do not have any cost. But because they are so easy to do, and anyone can do them, they do not prevent having people attach themselves to state employees to get the medical benefits. Therefore, the costs will increase. Number 1827 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON said right now, people who get state benefits do not have to sign anything that says they are married. HESS Committee members may be surprised if they do not think people who are not legally married are not taking advantage of the state's benefit system. An employee does not have to sign at the dotted line that they are married. Representative Robinson knows of couples who have chosen not to get married and who have had children together. Those partners are covered under the state benefits system. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON said no where in the current state laws is a mandate that makes a person state they are married. Therefore, the amendment would allow those people to come into compliance. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON also noted that the law says very clearly that the domestic partners plan to live together indefinitely. This is not saying frivolously that these two people plan on living together temporarily. The two people plan to stay in a long-term partnership. Number 1870 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY asked about a couple living together that has a child. If one partner is employed and is collecting benefits, she asked if there was any problem with that child being covered under benefits. CO-CHAIR BUNDE assured Co-Chair Toohey that dependents are covered. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY asked if a dependent has a legal status as a dependent. CO-CHAIR BUNDE said a dependent is a dependent whether marriage has taken place or not. Fathers and mothers are responsible for their children. Number 1916 REPRESENTATIVE KELLY conceded that Representative Robinson was probably right, there probably are people throughout the state who are not married and who are collecting benefits. But there are also people who continue to run stop signs. It is not the state's duty to now make running a stop sign legal because there are people doing it. Representative Kelly therefore does not think that is a good reason to change the laws, just because people are not obeying them. Number 1949 TALMADGE W. BAILEY testified that HB 226 is a bad bill. HB 226 seeks to bring the weight and authority of the state in alignment with the prejudices of a special interest group. The amendment proposed by Representative Robinson makes HB 226 a better bill. With the amendment, HB 226 would provide equal protection for all. HB 226 is a bad bill. As written, HB 226 would expose the state to divisive and extraordinarily expensive litigation as gays, lesbians, or religious minorities defended themselves from this attack on their personal liberties. MR. BAILEY continued that Representative Robinson's amendment would eliminate exposure to such litigation and therefore protect the state treasury as well as the personal resources of persons such as Mr. Bailey. Number 1992 MR. BAILEY said HB 226 is a hypocritical bill. It seeks to make a highly artificial distinction between very similar interpersonal relationships. In this day and age, many couples, married or otherwise, choose not to bring children into this overcrowded world. At the same time, it is common for dual-income households to choose the insurance plan from the employer that offers the best plan. MR. BAILEY questioned if the state will not then withhold benefits from a childless employee seeking to enroll her husband in a state- sponsored health plan, why should the state then seek to withhold those same benefits from employees seeking a health care plan for her life-time soulmate, who is helping raise her child. Representative Robinson's amendment makes HB 226 a better bill by exercising this hypocracy from the bill. MR. BAILEY said HB 226 is a discriminatory bill. It discriminates against two women because one is not a man, and it discriminates against two men because one is not a woman. It discriminates against the woman who has learned that marriage sometimes means abuse, oppression or neglect. Representative Robinson's amendment makes HB 226 a better bill by strengthening anti-discrimination statutes instead of gutting them. MR. BAILEY said anti-discrimination statutes are not the place to hide pro-discrimination rules. Number 2049 MR. BAILEY reminded everyone present that those companies, governments and educational institutions that have adopted domestic partnership rules have not seen the dramatic cost increases that the sponsor of HB 226 is using as a scare tactic. In fact, if one looks at companies such as Apple and Microsoft, one should assume those companies are getting significant returns on the money. Microsoft and Apple, after all, did not get where they are today by squandering their cash. Those companies are in business to make money. MR. BAILEY asked what those businesses are buying with the money they spend on domestic partnerships. Perhaps they are only buying freedom from costly and divisive lawsuits. Perhaps they are buying public relations "brownie points." Mr. Talmadge likes to think they are buying the precious commodities of employee loyalty, teamwork, and productivity. Perhaps they may even feel obliged to take responsibility for their employee's partners rather than allowing cost shifting to the public sector. MR. BAILEY said whatever those companies are doing, in reality those companies are buying a combination of "all of the above." Therefore, the question is whether the legislature wants to squander money and time on divisive debate and litigation, or does it want to make a small investment in the same things that large, successful corporations are buying for themselves. Number 2131 CO-CHAIR BUNDE asked people on teleconference to simply provide a brief, clear indication of how they stand on the amendment. He called for their stance on the amendment. MR. TUMEO said a scholar once said that legislation passed on exception always results in bad public policy. Representative Kelly has said to Mr. Tumeo that he is protecting a 5,000 year old tradition, the tradition of marriage. Mr. Tumeo added facetiously that of course, everyone knows that no one has ever entered into a marriage frivolously or just for benefit. MR. TUMEO urged Representative Kelly not to wrap himself so quickly in rhetoric. Traditions also include slavery, prohibition of inter-faith and inter-racial marriages, and the tradition that women are property. Today's society has evolved and changed. Many families are vastly different than those that Representative Kelly wants to honor. Representative Robinson's amendment promotes equality and fairness. Mr. Tumeo urged HESS Committee members to adopt amendment one. Number 2177 CO-CHAIR BUNDE called for the positions of Ms. Burleson, Mr. Travis, Ms. Wattum, and Ms. McClendon. They all supported the amendment. MR. MILLER said the proposed amendment does not cut out all discrimination. It just makes the bill less discriminatory. It is easier to get married, to pay $25 for a license, than to spend three days gathering documentation to establish a domestic partnership. However, the amendment makes the bill better. CO-CHAIR BUNDE noted that all others on teleconference had departed the meetings. He asked for the opinion of Mr. Owens, who said he only was asked to stand by to answer questions. Co-Chair Bunde closed public discussion on the amendment. Number 2223 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY pointed out that while looking through amendment one, to which he again stated he is opposed, he noted that he has numerous business relationships with a number of different people. Some of those relationships meet five of the criteria listed in the amendment. He still characterizes the amendment as codifying, to a limited extent, common-law marriages in Alaska. Number 2246 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON asked Representative Vezey if he plans on living with those business associates indefinitely in a domestic partner relationship. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY said that was not a mandatory provision. REPRESENTATIVE BRICE noted that it certainly was a mandatory provision, under Section 8 of the amendment. Representative Vezey apologized for his mistake. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON noted that the amendment calls for the fulfillment of five criteria, plus the assurance of an indefinite partnership with the partner. Number 2269 REPRESENTATIVE BRICE clarified that the first three requirements in amendment one are mandatory. Then, five of the ten criteria under (4) must be met on top of meeting the first three requirements. REPRESENTATIVE KELLY asked Mr. Owens if a contract is binding if the contract refers to how people intend to act. He asked if a contract stipulating intentions is meaningless. TAPE 95-38, SIDE A Number 000 MR. OWENS said the amendment calls for a contractual relationship. Under the law, people form or agree to be bound to a contract and can always amend that contract to agree to be unbound. It takes the same level of activity to break the contract as it does to make a contract. MR. OWENS said if two people agree to buy and sell a car, those two people can, five minutes later, agree to not buy and sell the car. The contract is broken in the same way it was made. REPRESENTATIVE KELLY asked if there was anything different about the requirements of a marriage contract that make it more difficult to break, as opposed to the domestic partner relationship agreement. MR. OWENS answered that under Alaskan law, marriage is a legally protected relationship that involves more than contracts. Number 109 REPRESENTATIVE KELLY asked Mr. Owens to speculate, and asked if he would be justified in thinking that if there was more of a requirement for marriage contract between two people, and less of a requirement for a domestic partnership contract, would it be to a person's advantage to always choose a domestic partnership agreement, because it would always be an advantage to enter into a contract that is less binding. MR. OWENS said that would indeed require speculation on his part. His presence was requested to provide accurate, factual information. He declined to answer Representative Kelly's question. REPRESENTATIVE KELLY said one of his fears with some of the requirements in the domestic partnership agreement as it pertains to bank accounts, ownership of motor vehicles, etc., is that given the current attitude of the court, the state could find itself in situations involving racial discrimination lawsuits. This would be due to the fact that classes of people are set up in domestic partnerships. REPRESENTATIVE KELLY asked if the state could find itself in a racial quandary if the courts chose to read the amendment as creating a racial boundary between a section of the population which is traditionally not as economically well-off as another portion of the population. MR. OWENS did not know. The judicial activity in the intersection between economics and race or class has really involved lending institutions, financial institutions, their lending practices, and what allegedly has been their systematic exclusion of certain racial groups from credit availability and other economic advantages that are extended to other groups. MR. OWENS said whether or not such issues could "leak" over into this particular area, Mr. Owens did not know. Number 321 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY was trying to follow Representative Kelly's line of reasoning. She thought the bill and the amendment pertain to people who are employed, not to unemployed people. The amendment speaks of a partnership in which an employed partner shares benefits with someone else. Therefore, the amendment speaks to people who, it is assumed, will have bank accounts, own a car, have credit, etc. Co-Chair Toohey did not think one could say these people are being classified as indigent, poor, or anything else. The amendment only addresses people who are employed. REPRESENTATIVE KELLY understood, but he did not know how many assumptions should be made when making law. In addition, the state does not know how employee/employer relationships are going to be changing over the years. There may be situations in the future in which employees are paid very little. They may buy in because health insurance benefits go with the job, although their salary is poor. REPRESENTATIVE KELLY said those people may not necessarily be wealthy to afford those kinds of benefits. Representative Kelly also questioned whether once this criteria has been set up, can the state now discriminate based on the fact that this domestic partnership agreement (Partnership A) has a child, and Partnership B does not have a child? Is partnership B going to sue the state, or whoever, because the partnership with a child is getting more benefits than the childless partnership? REPRESENTATIVE KELLY asked if a person who has five children could sue because he/she is getting less benefits than the person who has six children. Does the person who is well now sue because he/she is not getting the amount of benefits as a person who is sick? Representative Kelly felt all those scenarios were possible under the amendment. Number 457 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON summarized that she would prefer that HB 226 be voted down because it clearly guts the state human rights law. By adding in the domestic partner section the law becomes more fair. This is not a substitution for marriage. It does not provide the same rights and privileges bestowed on married people. The amendment provides a remedy brought forward by the judge. The judge said the way the University of Alaska can solve their problems is by adding a domestic partnership act, and/or making a determination that absolutely no one but the employee gets the benefits. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON would personally rather allow people who are employed to continue to provide family members with benefits. She would like to correct problems by providing a domestic partnership act that clearly and specifically defines what has to be done. In addition, the amendment most importantly defines that the couple continues to plan on being in a life-long, indefinite relationship. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON hoped, if the bill had to move forward, that the amendment would be added. At another time Representative Robinson would like to discuss with the sponsor whether or not he clearly wants the bill to pertain to health insurance benefits. Right now, the bill wraps up every benefit that state employee's get. She does not think that is what the HESS Committee wants to do either. However, clearly the Human Rights Commission does not support this. Number 590 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY read a position paper from the Department of Administration into the record: "HB 226 amends Alaska's discrimination law by clarifying that different retirement and health benefits may be provided to employees based on marital status. The provision of this bill reaffirms current state practices in extending health insurance coverages only to employees, their spouses, and dependent children as provided in AS 39.30.090(a)(2). "The department supports the alignment of this statute with other existing laws and current state practices." CO-CHAIR BUNDE reiterated that statistics have been provided which speak of only 1 or 2 percent. However, at a time when the legislature has asked the university to take a $4 million cut, 1 and 2 percent is a lot of money. At the risk of echoing the position of the SCC, Co-Chair Bunde stated that his position is based more on economics than lifestyles. Number 680 REPRESENTATIVE BRICE noted that the legislators can give themselves a 50 percent increase in per diem and keep a $9 million rollover account "slush fund" in the legislature. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON asked HESS Committee members to remember that under the university system, the employee who has other people on their benefits program purchases and pays for those benefits. If one was to look at how much money has been spent already on this lawsuit, and how much more money is going to be spent to continue the lawsuit, that amount far outweighs what it may cost the state to allow for domestic partnerships, to settle the case, and do what the judge suggested. Number 747 CO-CHAIR BUNDE did not like to think that the judge runs the legislature. He called for a vote on the amendment. Voting "no" on the passage of the amendment were Representatives Davis and Vezey; voting "yes" were Co-Chair Bunde, Co-Chair Toohey, Representative Robinson and Representative Brice. The amendment passed. Before the committee was HB 226 as amended. Co-Chair Bunde asked for the pleasure of the committee. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY moved CSHB 226(HES) be passed out of committee with individual recommendations and accompanying fiscal notes. There were no objections, and the bill passed.