Legislature(2005 - 2006)BUTROVICH 205
03/01/2006 08:30 AM JUDICIARY
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SJR 20-CONST. AM: BENEFITS & MARRIAGE CHAIR RALPH SEEKINS announced SJR 20 to be up for consideration. 8:44:35 AM LIZ BOARIO informed the committee that she was testifying for herself as well as her husband. She echoed a remark from previous testimony that SJR 20 was discriminatory and divisive. She said it dishonors the hallmarks of Alaska and of the United States Constitution, specifically the Equal Protection Clause. She has not heard serious argument that the resolution is not harmful. Instead what she is hearing is the mantra regarding the people's will, and history is full of tragic examples of majority manipulation. She suggested there were plenty of serious issues that need attention without people having to create new ones where none exist. She said she is deeply saddened to witness what she saw as a polite charade. Constitutional amendments are historically used to make things better for the people and SJR 20 would hurt talented people who work for the betterment of all Alaskans. 8:48:02 AM DOUG VEIT testified in opposition to SJR 20. He said it was patently discriminatory; it singles out a particular class of people and systematically deprives them of economic and social resources simply because of their membership in the class. He suggested there were specific reasons for the separation of church and state. He said he has not heard any testimony of support for the resolution that passes the logic test. 8:51:23 AM BELINDA SESSIONS testified in opposition to SJR 20 and said she spoke for her partner as well. She said the Alaska State Constitution should guarantee basic rights, not take them away. She described her 23-year lesbian relationship and said they gladly pay taxes, attend church, volunteer in the community, and contribute monetarily to organizations that help the needy. If the Legislature succeeds in overturning the Alaska Supreme Court, Alaska will be guilty of discrimination by giving some employees better benefits packages than others. It is an employment issue and not a marriage issue, she stated. 8:53:47 AM MS. SESSIONS commented that equitable benefits packages would increase the ability of the schools to recruit and retain teachers. She urged the committee to reject the resolution. 8:54:58 AM TAMMY DAVIS testified in opposition to SJR 20. She noted previous testimony in opposition to the resolution has been wrought with thoughtful, heartfelt, and intelligent comments. It is her opinion that SJR 20 mandates unequal compensation for equal work for individuals who choose domestic partnership as an alternative to church or state-sanctioned union as well as those who are not able by law to come into a legally binding marriage. She urged the committee to support the civil liberties of all Alaskan citizens and reject the resolution. 8:56:46 am MO MCBRIDE testified in opposition to SJR 20. She said she is not in one of the groups affected by the issue but feels very strongly that the Alaska State Constitution was being threatened. She suggested committee members transpose another group of people into the resolution, such as Hispanics, and see whether that seemed like a fair resolution. She said adding exclusionary language to the Constitution is against what the creators of the document intended. She said the Preamble states very clearly they wanted to transmit to succeeding generations the heritage of political, civil, and religious liberty. They reiterated it again in the inherent rights section of Article 1. She strongly urged the committee to reject the resolution. 8:59:38 AM KATHY SWEENEY testified in opposition to SJR 20. She said as a licensed healthcare official she found it unfathomable that elected officials were writing legislation that would deny healthcare to citizens of Alaska. She considered the irony that recently United States Senator Lisa Murkowski addressed members of the committee along with the entire Legislative body and encouraged them to work towards improving healthcare for all Alaskans. Other legislative committees are working diligently to make Alaska an attractive state for young professionals to come and fulfill employment roles, she stated. SJR 20 works against that goal. MS. SWEENEY noted that more than 99 percent of people who testified have opposition to the resolution. Members of the committee have suggested the issue was one of much contention yet she saw no evidence of it. She said abortion was a contentious issue and if that were the issue before the committee there would be much heated debate on both sides, yet testimony on SJR 20 was one-sided. 9:04:02 AM MS. SWEENEY suggested that when it comes to politics, the majority of Americans are paralyzed by apathy and suggested it was due to elected officials not listening to their constituents. CHAIR SEEKINS closed public testimony. CHAIR SEEKINS announced a brief recess at 9:05:48 AM. 9:10:25 AM CHAIR SEEKINS asked for discussion among committee members. SENATOR GENE THERRIAULT commented the issue was difficult and should not be taken lightly. It would require a super majority to pass the Senate since it would be an amendment to the Alaska State Constitution. He said the debate had been good and the language of SJR 20 would be modified throughout the process and so he moved SJR 20 out of committee with individual recommendations. SENATOR FRENCH objected. He said the measure was brought in response to a unanimous Alaska Supreme Court decision that was penned by one of the more conservative members of the court. The proposal seeks to overturn that decision. The Court found that the state could not deny health benefits to long-term partners of its gay employees consistent with the Equal Protection Clause. He said this was a clear message of equal pay for equal work. He said he could not let SJR 20 go forward because it chips away at the Equal Protection Clause of the Alaska State Constitution. He said that was more than he could bear and maintained his objection. CHAIR SEEKINS announced a brief recess at 9:13:22 AM. 9:13:35 AM CHAIR SEEKINS brought the committee meeting back to order and asked for further discussion. SENATOR THERRIAULT stated a three-two vote out of committee did not amount to a two-thirds vote and he did not know whether the measure would see a two-thirds vote on the Senate Floor. He contended legislators continually hear testimony on decisions that the Court makes and said it is the way the system is designed. He insisted that suggesting an amendment to the Constitution could not be unconstitutional and that the voters should be trusted to do the right thing. He said since voters in his district voted 4-1 in favor of the Marriage Amendment, SJR 20 deserved further discussion and should not be halted in the first committee of referral. 9:15:49 AM SENATOR GUESS suggested SJR 20 was not what people were looking for. She expressed sadness that Alaskans have had to come forward and speak about their sexuality in front of camera and that the Legislature was going to continue that process by moving the resolution out of committee. She said the issue was about asking the majority to vote on minority rights and it is wrong and discriminatory. She said she would vote to keep the resolution in committee to die and voiced support for letting Alaska move forward. CHAIR SEEKINS said he interpreted the Alaska Supreme Court opinion to mean that the 1998 Marriage Amendment did not speak to the issue. He said footnote 38 says the Court recognized the benefit programs became discriminatory only after the electorate adopted the Marriage Amendment in 1998. The courts have said that the people have forced the state to treat same-sex couples as though they were married even though they are not. The state needs to ask the people whether that was their intent. He said it was the right of the people to decide whether they accept the Alaska Supreme Court ruling. 9:19:09 AM Roll call proved SJR 20 passed out of committee on a 3-2 vote with Senators Huggins, Therriault, and Seekins voting yea; and Senators French and Guess voting nay.