Legislature(2005 - 2006)BUTROVICH 205
02/28/2006 08:30 AM JUDICIARY
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
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SJR 20-CONST. AM: BENEFITS & MARRIAGE 9:55:20 AM CHAIR RALPH SEEKINS announced SJR 20 to be up for consideration. KRISTEN BOMENGEN testified in opposition to SJR 20. She described her career and life as one steeped in public service, including volunteering for Hurricane Katrina and serving as an international election observer for Ukraine. She said she puts as much effort as possible into serving her community, state, country and world. She said it was important for the committee to know that she was more than a lesbian. MS. BOMENGEN described her 13-year relationship with her partner. While she was employed as an assistant attorney general, her uninsured partner suffered extensive medical issues, which put them in serious financial distress for years afterwards. 10:00:03 AM CHAIR SEEKINS interrupted Ms. Bomengen to ask her to summarize. MS. BOMENGEN continued describing the extensive medical treatments sustained by her uninsured partner. She expressed concern over whether SJR 20 would serve to allow a hospital to keep her from visiting her partner during a medical emergency. She urged committee members to consider the harm that could be caused by the resolution and urged them to reject it. 10:02:13 AM CID BLASE testified in opposition to SJR 20. As a school teacher, she said her favorite subject to teach was history because she could show her students the many amendments that have been made to the United States Constitution creating laws for the equal treatment of all, which benefit the people as a whole. She suggested SJR 20 would reverse the historical tide of making access to rights, benefits, obligations, and qualities of life more equal. She said she wants to continue teaching her students that Alaska sets good examples for other states. 10:04:44 AM MARGOT KNUTH testified in opposition to SJR 20. She informed the committee that she worked for the State of Alaska for 23 years both in the Department of Law and in the Department of Corrections. She said she is pleased with the Alaska Supreme Court decision, which would allow her the same rights and benefits as her colleagues. MS. KNUTH described a letter to Dear Abby wherein Abby sided with the parents who allowed their gay son and his longtime partner to sleep in the same room while visiting, much to the dislike of the son who was not married but was visiting with his girlfriend and was not awarded the same courtesy. Abby noted, like the parents did, that while the unmarried son and his girlfriend had the option of marriage and weren't, the gay son would have married if the option were available. She said the unanimous Alaska Supreme Court decision was similar to the thinking of those parents and, she said, if that makes sense to five justices of the Alaska Supreme Court as well as Dear Abby, it should be appropriate. She urged the committee to reject the resolution. 10:08:15 AM JOHN MONAGLE testified in support of SJR 20. He said the taxpayers have a right to vote on the issue. IDA BARNICK testified in support of SJR 20. She said the voters have decided that marriage is between a man and a woman and should not be interpreted any other way. SUE SCHRADER testified in opposition of SJR 20. She said she and her husband have enjoyed the benefits from his 15-year employment with the State of Alaska. The benefits have provided financial security and peace of mind, she noted, and they are a good offset for the high cost of living in Alaska. The City and Borough of Juneau and the University of Alaska offer domestic partnership benefits without incurring excessive costs. Many large companies such as IBM, Microsoft, Ford, Wells Fargo, and Coors Brewing Company know that providing such benefits help to attract and retain skilled employees. MS. SCHRADER suggested the court wisely and appropriately ruled to protect the rights of a minority group, a principle at the heart of government. She said she could not comprehend how SJR 20 could strengthen her marriage. She suggested the issue was not about letting the people vote and asked the committee how the majority of voters in Alabama or Mississippi would have voted on school segregation in 1956. She said she was proud that the Alaska State Constitution protects the rights of minority groups and that the judges uphold those constitutional rights. She asserted it was an issue of fairness in a democratic society and said it was wrong to seek to amend the Constitution to deprive Alaskans of equal protections. 10:13:41 AM DIXIE HOOD testified in opposition to SJR 20. She asserted that representation of the people of the State of Alaska has been undermined by political opportunism. Proposing an amendment to the Alaska State Constitution to further deprive many Alaskans of their civil rights is unjust and contrary to the ideals of democracy, she stated. Discrimination based on self-interest, ignorance or righteousness is all too common and has no place in Alaska. She urged the committee to reject the resolution. PAUL GRANT testified in opposition to SJR 20. He suggested it was a discriminatory resolution that seeks to write discrimination into the Alaska State Constitution. He said African Americans would not be allowed to vote and segregation would still be allowed in schools today if that issue were put on the ballot in southern states. He suggested the Senate Judiciary Standing Committee was avoiding its responsibility for upholding the anti-discriminatory provisions of the Constitution by allowing SJR 20 to go forward. SENATOR THERRIAULT questioned Mr. Grant's statement regarding African Americans not being allowed to vote and said that wasn't true since it would have been pre-empted by the United States Constitution. MR. GRANT said that was exactly the point. The judiciary was the body that decided against the will of the people against constitutional and statutory provisions. He cited the interracial marriage case of Loving versus Virginia in which the United States Supreme Court said state laws that prohibit interracial marriage are unconstitutional. He said had the issue been put to a popular vote, Virginia law would have overwhelmingly been supported by voters in the South. 10:19:07 AM CHAIR SEEKINS said Senator Therriault's point was there is no Supreme Court decision that addresses the topic of SJR 20. MR. GRANT countered the Alaska Supreme Court decision is standing. There is also the recent Romer versus Evans case in Colorado. 10:20:00 AM DIANE MAYER testified in opposition to SJR 20. She said it was poorly drafted, confusing, and difficult to interpret. She questioned the meaning of it and its affects. She asked the definition of "qualities of marriage" and said the resolution was misleading since same-sex couples are denied marriage in the State of Alaska. She said the Alaska Supreme Court decision was not about the benefits of marriage, it was about equal access to the benefits of employment. MS. MAYER said: You can't sign up for life or health insurance for your family, joint or survivor annuities, a death benefit, or health insurance in retirement for your life partner simply because of a marriage certificate. To receive these benefits you have to successfully compete for a job, you have to go to work every day, you have to be productive, satisfactorily accomplish your assignments. These benefits are all provided as benefits of employment though they are currently granted only to those employees who are allowed to marry. MS. MAYER said Article 1 of the Constitution states that all persons have a natural right to the enjoyment of the rewards of their industry. She asserted that the benefits in question are linked to employment and not marriage. The opportunity for family stability is a result of the person's industriousness in the workplace, she stated. She urged the committee to uphold the Alaska State Constitution and reject the resolution. MS. MAYER pointed to a report from the Conference of Young Alaskans held in January 2006. Fifty-five young Alaskans met to th commemorate the 50 anniversary of the Alaska State Constitution. In their report they overwhelmingly voted to approve language that specifically stated support of a diverse culture. Item 4 in their report specifically says, "Because it directly inhibits the rights of individuals, the Alaska State th Legislature shall repeal the 25 Amendment to the Alaska State Constitution defining marriage." th SENATOR HUGGINS asked Ms. Mayer whether she supported the 25 Amendment. MS. MAYER said no. 10:26:33 AM JANELL HAFNER testified in opposition to SJR 20. She said the Alaska Supreme Court decision could be read in conformity with the Alaska State Constitution. CANDACE BROWER testified in opposition to SJR 20. She strongly urged members to dissolve the resolution in committee. 10:28:29 AM MICHAEL MACLEOD-BALL, Executive Director, Alaska American Civil Liberties Union testified. He disagreed with earlier comments of some committee members that their job is to pass the resolution on to the people for a vote. He said they are mistaken to say that the Alaska State Legislature has no real substantive role to play in the matter and that its only duty is to simply pass the question along to the people. He said it ignores the clear obligation of the Legislature to vet the very serious matter of amending the foundation document of Alaska State laws. He encouraged the committee members to protect the individual rights of all Alaskans. He said pollsters get the answers they want when they design the question in the right way. A rigged question will get a rigged answer, he said. He said the question, in this case, is misleading and he is still unsure what SJR 20 means. 10:31:55 AM MR. MACLEOD-BALL said one thing it would do is amend the Marriage Amendment but the court decision accepted the Marriage Amendment in full and interpreted the Equal Protection Clause and said the existing employment benefit system for state workers was discriminatory under the Equal Protection Clause of Article 1. He suggested the real problem was with the question that the proponents of SJR 20 would propose to offer to the voters. He said: If you insist on passing on your obligation to stop this now, then at least you ought to ask an honest question about what you want to achieve. You want to change the outcome of the case that was decided in October and that means you want to change the meaning of the Equal Protection Clause. If you want to let the people decide, then at the very least, ask them the right question. Do you want to restrict the Equal Protection Clause so that it no longer applies to unmarried individuals? Do you want to exempt unmarried individuals from the benefits of equal protection? In that case, I think, you will have sidestepped your obligation to protect individual rights in this body but at least you will have framed the issue arising out of the case that came down in October and you'll have raised it in the context of the Equal Protection Clause, which I think is the more appropriate question. 10:33:48 AM SENATOR HUGGINS took exception Mr. Macleod-Ball's suggestion that he was a party to a "rigging." CHAIR SEEKINS advised Mr. Macleod-Ball that he could not respond to Senator Huggins' comment. SENATOR GUESS said: Then I will speak up on it. I think it was a metaphor and people need to listen to the entire argument. I think the point that I heard was the question you ask is very important and is something that actually we haven't spent any time in this committee on, nor has the person that we hired spent time explaining why the question and why it's framed the way responds to the [Alaska] Supreme Court decision. She said she used to write polling questions for a living and it is the case of spinning the question to get the desired result. CHAIR SEEKINS said it was not the intent of the sponsors to trump equal rights protection; and that SJR 20 was a legitimate question to pose to the voters. 10:38:48 AM SEINA ANIHETA expressed concern as an employee of the University of Alaska that SJR 20 would jeopardize the ability of the University to attract and retain highly trained workers. She said the resolution in its broadness would have unintentional effects. KATE SUNWOOD testified in opposition to SJR 20. She contended the resolution was ambiguous and unclear of intent. She said SJR 20 would wipe out people's opportunity to purchase medical insurance. 10:41:07 AM WILLIAM HILL testified in support of SJR 20. He suggested that non-traditional marriages create at-risk youths. He said every child in the state should have the opportunity to live in the traditional atmosphere of a male husband and female wife since that is what creates stable citizens. All cultures in the world agree that marriage and family are traditional. For the sake of at-risk youth, he said, Alaska citizens should do everything possible to discourage non-traditional families, rather than encourage them by providing benefits for them. FRED TRABER testified in opposition to SJR 20. He said his partner and he have been together for over 30 years. They jointly own property, have well respected careers, and make a positive contribution to their community. He said they have decades of experience with discrimination and it has been their experience that intolerant and mean-spirited people promote discrimination and bigotry. There is no credible reason for the legislative body of the people to put a ballot proposition promoting discrimination before the people. 10:45:57 AM GLEN BIEGEL commented on SJR 20. He said he supported the resolution and that the Alaska Supreme Court overrode precedence, original intent, lower court rulings, legislative action, public intent, common sense, and the plain language of the Alaska State Constitution. He suggested the problem was with the judiciary and said they are not interested in being constrained and will make their own interpretations. SJR 20 is an attempt to redress a judiciary that does not understand the Constitution. He said the resolution is not apparent that it applies only to public groups. He said the Alaska Supreme Court might also ignore the amendment and create a new type of relationship and therefore grant that relationship benefits. 10:49:31 AM MR. BIEGEL summarized by suggesting there were difficulties with the resolution being over broad. He suggested the Alaska Supreme Court caused the need for SJR 20. Chair Seekins held SJR 20 in committee.