Legislature(2019 - 2020)GRUENBERG 120

02/20/2020 03:00 PM House STATE AFFAIRS

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Moved SB 144 Out of Committee
-- Public Testimony --
Heard & Held
Heard & Held
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
                   HB 148-MARRIAGE WITNESSES                                                                                
3:03:59 PM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR  KREISS-TOMKINS  announced  that   the  first  order  of                                                               
business  would  be HOUSE  BILL  NO.  148,  "An Act  relating  to                                                               
solemnization of marriage."                                                                                                     
3:04:18 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE   MATT    CLAMAN,   Alaska    State   Legislature,                                                               
paraphrased from his written statement, which read:                                                                             
     Chairman,  members  of  the committee,  thank  you  for                                                                    
     hearing   House   Bill   148  "An   Act   relating   to                                                                    
     solemnization of marriage."                                                                                                
     At  present,  during  the  solemnization  of  marriage,                                                                    
     couples must assent to the  marriage in the presence of                                                                    
     each other,  the person  solemnizing the  marriage, and                                                                    
     at  least  two  additional  witnesses.  Afterward,  all                                                                    
     parties  must  sign  the marriage  certificates.  House                                                                    
     Bill  148  would  eliminate the  requirements  for  any                                                                    
     additional witnesses at  the marriage solemnization and                                                                    
     the   signatures  of   these   witnesses  on   marriage                                                                    
     certificates. These  changes will bring  our ceremonial                                                                    
     requirements  into  the  modern age  and  help  support                                                                    
     Alaska's destination wedding  industry while preserving                                                                    
     the integrity of marriage solemnization.                                                                                   
     Alaska  is  one of  only  17  states that  require  two                                                                    
     wedding   witnesses   in   addition   to   the   person                                                                    
     officiating  the marriage.  Twenty five  states do  not                                                                    
     require any wedding witnesses.                                                                                             
     Wedding witnesses  played a more critical  role in past                                                                    
     centuries when  record keeping  was less  automated. In                                                                    
     England,  prior   to  the   18th  century,   the  legal                                                                    
     requirements  of marriage  were governed  by the  canon                                                                    
     law  of   the  Church   of  England.  A   marriage  was                                                                    
     considered valid as long as  the union was consented to                                                                    
     by  both   parties  and   celebrated  by   an  Anglican                                                                    
     clergyman. This largely  informal process that dictated                                                                    
     the validity of marriage  allowed for the proliferation                                                                    
     of clandestine marriages.                                                                                                  
     In 1746,  a woman laid  claim to the  recently deceased                                                                    
     Captain John  Campbell's pension on the  basis that she                                                                    
     married  him in  a  clandestine  ceremony. The  problem                                                                    
     arose because  another woman claimed  she was  the wife                                                                    
     of  the   Captain.  The  confusion  that   ensued  from                                                                    
     inability to  verify marriage claims led  Parliament to                                                                    
     pass the  Act for the Better  Preventing of Clandestine                                                                    
     Marriage, known  as the Marriage  Act of 1753.  The Act                                                                    
     formalized   the  marriage   process,  requiring   that                                                                    
     marriages  be viewed  by witnesses  who could  later be                                                                    
     called on to  confirm that the marriage did  or did not                                                                    
     take  place-  an  extra  precaution  of  record-keeping                                                                    
     should records  of marriage be  damaged or  go missing.                                                                    
     The  Marriage Act  is the  historical basis  for the  2                                                                    
     witness requirement.                                                                                                       
     Today,  however,  the  role of  a  wedding  witness  is                                                                    
     ceremonial.  In Alaska,  while  the person  solemnizing                                                                    
     the marriage  must meet certain criteria,  the law does                                                                    
     not require any form  of witness verification (proof of                                                                    
     identification,    language   comprehension,    address                                                                    
     validation,  etc.).  HB  148   would  allow  Alaska  to                                                                    
     compete  more  directly  with states  like  Hawaii  and                                                                    
     Florida, which  require no  wedding witnesses  and lead                                                                    
     the nation in destination weddings.                                                                                        
     Destination  weddings,  often   on  mountain  tops  and                                                                    
     glaciers,  are  a  growing   business  in  Alaska.  The                                                                    
     requirement of  two wedding  witnesses makes  the state                                                                    
     less  attractive  for  many  couples  who  travel  from                                                                    
     farther away  or who do  not want the  financial burden                                                                    
     of  a larger  wedding. Couples  who come  to the  state                                                                    
     without  their own  witnesses are  tasked with  finding                                                                    
     strangers  to  witness  their wedding.  The  burden  of                                                                    
     supplying  these witnesses  often  falls  to those  who                                                                    
     work in  Alaska's wedding industry who  ask friends and                                                                    
     family  to witness  the weddings  of their  out-of-town                                                                    
     In  addition to  the  awkwardness  of having  strangers                                                                    
     witness   the    wedding,   the    additional   witness                                                                    
     requirement can place an  increased financial burden on                                                                    
     the couple. For example, in  a wedding in a more remote                                                                    
     location like  a glacier via helicopter,  they must pay                                                                    
     extra  seating costs  to  transport  the witnesses.  At                                                                    
     present, destination weddings bring  in an estimated $1                                                                    
     million in revenue to the  state in the form of roughly                                                                    
     500 destination  weddings a  year. This  revenue figure                                                                    
     doesn't consider  the fact  that more  than 90%  of the                                                                    
     out-of-state couples who come  to Alaska to get married                                                                    
     stay for  days and  weeks to  explore our  great state.                                                                    
     The resulting  benefit to Alaska's tourism  industry is                                                                    
     substantial. HB 148 would  simplify the wedding process                                                                    
     by  reducing  the  number  of  hurdles  a  couple  must                                                                    
     address to get married.                                                                                                    
3:08:45 PM                                                                                                                    
SOPHIE JONAS, Staff, Representative Matt Claman, Alaska State                                                                   
Legislature, on behalf of Representative Claman, prime sponsor                                                                  
of HB 148, reviewed the sectional analysis, which read:                                                                         
     Section 1                                                                                                                
     Amends AS 25.05.301:                                                                                                       
     Eliminates requirement  of two witnesses at  a marriage                                                                    
     Section 2                                                                                                                
     Amends AS 25.05.32:                                                                                                        
     Eliminates  requirement   of  the  signatures   of  two                                                                    
     witnesses on marriage certificates.                                                                                        
     Section 3                                                                                                                
     Amends AS  25.05.361: Deletes language to  conform with                                                                    
     changes made in section 1 of the bill.                                                                                     
     Section 4                                                                                                                
       Repeals AS 25.05.041(a)(3) and AS 25.05.041(a)(5):                                                                       
      Repeals subsections to conform with changes made in                                                                       
     section 1 of the bill.                                                                                                     
3:10:15 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE HOPKINS referred  to page 1, line 7-8,  of HB 148,                                                               
which read in  part, "... they take each other  to be husband and                                                               
wife."   He  asked  whether  this was  the  standard language  in                                                               
statute regardless of the allowance for same sex marriages.                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  CLAMAN  expressed  his   belief  that  since  the                                                               
federal  courts ruled  that  [Federal  Marriage Amendment  (FMA),                                                               
2006]  was  unconstitutional,  changing every  reference  in  the                                                               
Alaska Statutes to  comply with that ruling would  just take time                                                               
away from  more important  legislative work,  and it  is possible                                                               
members would not achieve resolution on the language.                                                                           
REPRESENTATIVE HOPKINS  referred to  his own  marriage experience                                                               
and  stated that  the  process was  incredibly  complicated.   He                                                               
offered his  support for the  proposed legislation  and suggested                                                               
there may  be other statutory  changes that would  facilitate the                                                               
3:13:03 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE STORY asked whether  any concerns have emerged for                                                               
states that do not require two witnesses.                                                                                       
REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN  reiterated that over 25  states require no                                                               
witness  [for  marriage  solemnization]; staff  research  on  the                                                               
issue did not identify any resulting problems.                                                                                  
REPRESENTATIVE VANCE  asked whether  the states with  no required                                                               
witnesses have seen an increase in the rate of marriages.                                                                       
REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN responded that he  does not know.  He added                                                               
that  the  issue   was  brought  to  his   attention  by  wedding                                                               
photographers who contacted his office.   Hawaii leads the nation                                                               
in destination weddings; it does  not have a witness requirement.                                                               
The photographers  maintained that  in their  line of  work, they                                                               
would  do a  much better  job of  serving their  clients if  they                                                               
didn't have to recruit two witnesses.                                                                                           
REPRESENTATIVE VANCE maintained that marriage  is one of the more                                                               
respected unions;  it is a legal  process.  She offered  that she                                                               
struggles with  the idea  of removing the  two witnesses  for the                                                               
sake of  commerce.  She  mentioned that she  is not aware  of the                                                               
requirement of  two witnesses being  a burden.   She acknowledged                                                               
the desire to  promote Alaska as a  destination marriage location                                                               
but said  that she  wanted stronger  data demonstrating  that the                                                               
requirement for two witnesses is burdensome.                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  CLAMAN responded  that the  interest of  commerce                                                               
brought the  proposed legislation to his  attention; however, the                                                               
real  issue is  the purpose  that  wedding witnesses  serve as  a                                                               
matter of law and procedure.   He referred to the Marriage Act of                                                               
1753 in  England as being  the foundation for the  requirement of                                                               
witnesses.   The problem of  clandestine marriages in  England in                                                               
the 1700s  was due to the  lack of proof of  marriage and central                                                               
record keeping  authority.  With  Alaska's very  detailed current                                                               
recordkeeping  requirement within  the Health  Analytics &  Vital                                                               
Record Section  (HAVRS), the need  for witnesses does  not exist,                                                               
and in  fact, no one  looks for  the witnesses to  authenticate a                                                               
marriage.  He maintained that he  was involved in a case in which                                                               
a  marriage  needed  to  be  verified; he  relied  on  the  vital                                                               
statistics  records and  not the  witnesses.   He concluded  that                                                               
wedding witnesses  originally served  the purpose of  proving the                                                               
validity of a marriage; they do not serve that purpose today.                                                                   
3:18:47 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE THOMPSON asked whether  an underage legal marriage                                                               
requires certification from the parents.                                                                                        
REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN expressed  his belief that proof  of age is                                                               
required for a  marriage license; the witness  requirement is not                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE THOMPSON asked about  the procedure for a 15-year-                                                               
old getting married.                                                                                                            
REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN answered that  he assumes the parents would                                                               
need  to give  consent at  the courthouse.   He  acknowledged the                                                               
possibility  that  an  underage  person might  use  a  fraudulent                                                               
identification (ID) to circumvent the requirement.                                                                              
REPRESENTATIVE  HOPKINS maintained  that completing  the marriage                                                               
paperwork correctly, mailing it  to HAVRS, and needing additional                                                               
signers made his wedding less romantic  with less of a feeling of                                                               
being sanctified.   He  said that getting  witnesses to  sign the                                                               
forms and all that entailed was not optimal.                                                                                    
3:22:11 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE SHAW  relayed a personal  experience with  his own                                                               
wedding, in which the requirement of witnesses was not a burden.                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE VANCE  compared the  requirement of  witnesses for                                                               
marriage to  the requirement  of witnesses  for a  permanent fund                                                               
dividend  (PFD) application  to  verify residency  and intent  to                                                               
remain in Alaska.   She asked, "What's the difference  in ... the                                                               
burden on providing two witnesses?"                                                                                             
REPRESENTATIVE  CLAMAN  replied  that   there  is  a  substantial                                                               
history  of fraud  in connection  with PFD  applications.   Every                                                               
year  there are  prosecutions of  people fraudulently  filing for                                                               
PFD applications.   He stated that  he is not aware  of any cases                                                               
in Alaska of a  false marriage claim.  He said  they are two very                                                               
different  situations;  the  PFD  is an  appropriation  from  the                                                               
state, and fraudulently getting a  PFD constitutes theft from the                                                               
state, which is why there is a verification requirement.                                                                        
3:25:37 PM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS opened invited testimony on HB 144.                                                                     
3:26:15 PM                                                                                                                    
CIAN MULHERN, Reverend, Celtic Ministries,  testified that he has                                                               
performed  weddings for  over 21  years.   He said  that it  is a                                                               
great burden  for ministers to  find witnesses and  described the                                                               
inconvenience to  himself and to  the witnesses.  He  stated that                                                               
he does  about 150  weddings per  year, and  over 90  percent are                                                               
destination weddings in  Alaska.  Couples come from  all over the                                                               
world;  most  come for  a  small  intimate elopement;  they  then                                                               
"spend  lots of  time here  honeymooning  in the  state."   These                                                               
couples do  not know anyone  in Alaska; therefore, the  burden is                                                               
on  him  or  another  person  in the  wedding  industry  to  find                                                               
witnesses.  He  maintained that most couples are  not thrilled to                                                               
have two people, whom they have  never met, as part of their very                                                               
special day and find it intrusive.                                                                                              
REVEREND MULHERN relayed  that he also performs  many wedding for                                                               
military personnel;  many are new  to Alaska and don't  have many                                                               
acquaintances yet.   The witnesses  are not being used  to verify                                                               
who the  couples are or  to check IDs.   That is what  HAVRS does                                                               
when a couple applies for a  marriage license.  Witnesses are not                                                               
used to verify the wedding or  its legitimacy.  He mentioned that                                                               
witnesses for the  PFD application are people  that the applicant                                                               
CO-CHAIR   KREISS-TOMKINS   asked    whether   Reverend   Mulhern                                                               
solemnizes the destination wedding marriages.                                                                                   
REVEREND MULHERN responded affirmatively.                                                                                       
3:29:31 PM                                                                                                                    
ERICA ROSE, Erica  Rose Photography, testified that  she has been                                                               
a wedding photographer  for 10 years and shoots  about 40 wedding                                                               
each year;  many are  small elopements for  people who  come from                                                               
out of  state.  Hundreds  of people come  to Alaska each  year to                                                               
get married.   She expressed that  one of the best  facets of her                                                               
work is  the privilege of being  part of a very  sacred moment in                                                               
people's lives; although it is  her business, she takes seriously                                                               
the gravity of the event.   She said that she has learned through                                                               
her business  that Alaska is an  incredibly desirable destination                                                               
for weddings, and  she believes there is potential  for growth in                                                               
the industry.  She relayed that  the current trend is weddings in                                                               
adventure and  mountain locations  like Alaska, and  the benefits                                                               
are  felt by  many other  businesses.   She maintained  that when                                                               
people decide  to elope, it is  not always to save  money, but to                                                               
spend the money on experiences.                                                                                                 
MS.  ROSE asserted  that the  two-witness rule  presents a  large                                                               
hurdle  for the  industry.   When  people choose  to elope,  they                                                               
often  do  it for  the  privacy;  they  don't want  extra  people                                                               
around;  and  they go  out  of  their  way  to find  an  intimate                                                               
setting.   They often look  for a stunningly  beautiful location;                                                               
it can be  difficult and expensive to transport  two extra people                                                               
to the  location.  She  relayed an experience  of a wedding  in a                                                               
remote area, in which they waited  in the parking to ask the next                                                               
hiker to witness  the wedding; it detracted from the  event.  She                                                               
said  that anyone  in  the  business has  similar  stories.   She                                                               
concluded  by saying  that the  main goal  for her  as a  wedding                                                               
professional is to  make the important day in  her clients' lives                                                               
as  special  as possible  and  provide  good service,  and  these                                                               
stories [regarding  marriage witnesses] feel like  small failures                                                               
in that effort.                                                                                                                 
CO-CHAIR  KREISS-TOMKINS  asked  for  the  meaning  of  the  term                                                               
"elopement" in the wedding industry.                                                                                            
MS. ROSE  explained that elopement  is currently a trend,  and it                                                               
refers to a bride and a groom  "going off to do their own private                                                               
3:33:52 PM                                                                                                                    
ERIN VELANDER,  Alaska Destination  Weddings, testified  that the                                                               
proposed  legislation impacts  many  small  businesses and  small                                                               
business  owners.   She stated  that  she has  been an  adventure                                                               
wedding  planner for  about 20  years.   She assists  couples who                                                               
want to  elope in Alaska and  be married in extreme  places.  She                                                               
relayed that  she also operates  her business in Hawaii;  she has                                                               
planned hundreds of weddings; and  [the requirement of witnesses]                                                               
deters people from  eloping in Alaska.  She  maintained that data                                                               
shows the  discrepancy between the  two states as far  as numbers                                                               
of destination weddings.                                                                                                        
MS. VELANDER  stated that  she used to  plan very  large weddings                                                               
and from  her experience,  the number of  witnesses at  a wedding                                                               
does  not  determine  "the  sacredness  of  that  moment."    She                                                               
maintained that  couples should  be able to  choose how  they get                                                               
married.  She  offered that the very small wedding  with just the                                                               
couple  and  the  officiant  often feels  more  sacred  than  the                                                               
wedding that is a "huge  production."  She implored the committee                                                               
to consider  that the two  witnesses, who are often  strangers to                                                               
the couple eloping  in Alaska, do not make the  marriage any more                                                               
sacred,  and  at  times,  even  less  sacred,  because  they  are                                                               
strangers.  She  asserted that Alaska does not have  the right to                                                               
deny the  wishes of people  who choose  to get married  "just the                                                               
two of them."                                                                                                                   
3:37:05 PM                                                                                                                    
JOE  CONNOLLY, Chugach  Peaks Photography,  offered a  definition                                                               
for elopement:   Elopement is often  used to refer to  a marriage                                                               
conducted in  sudden and secretive  fashion, usually  involving a                                                               
hurried flight away  from one's place of  residence together with                                                               
one's beloved  with the intention  of getting married.   He added                                                               
that in  most cases  it is  less sudden  but equally  private and                                                               
MR. CONNOLLY relayed that the  economic impact that weddings have                                                               
on the state is probably  more significant than one would expect.                                                               
He  said that  requiring  the  presence of  two  witnesses is  an                                                               
unfair  burden and  an  awkward intrusion  into  what the  couple                                                               
intended -  a private and personal  event.  He said  that the act                                                               
of eloping  is for the  purpose of getting  away to have  a small                                                               
wedding with no  family and friends present.   He maintained that                                                               
for  those  who  had  a  big wedding  with  family  and  friends,                                                               
elopement might  seem unusual.   He offered  that there  are many                                                               
people who  do not  want a  big fancy  wedding with  many guests.                                                               
Hundreds  of couples  from the  Lower 48  and from  all over  the                                                               
world come  to Alaska  every year  to get married  in one  of the                                                               
last truly "free  and wild" places in  the U.S.  They  come up to                                                               
Alaska  without family  and friends;  they don't  know anyone  in                                                               
Alaska; marketing has attracted them  to the state; they all want                                                               
to get married on a glacier,  a rocky beach, next to a waterfall,                                                               
or  in a  flowering meadow,  with mountains  and glaciers  behind                                                               
them; none want  random strangers at their wedding.   If a couple                                                               
needs  to hire  a  helicopter  to get  to  the destination,  most                                                               
helicopters  can   only  seat  three   people  plus   the  pilot;                                                               
therefore,  they   must  hire  another  helicopter   to  fly  the                                                               
witnesses.  Often people back off  due to the extra expense - all                                                               
because of  an "ancient state  law that is probably  not relevant                                                               
anymore."    Mr.  Connolly  relayed   that  when  hiking  into  a                                                               
wilderness  area,   he  is  tasked  with   finding  witnesses  to                                                               
accompany the hike  and "give up a day."   He maintained that the                                                               
economic impact of  the weddings far exceeds  the direct benefits                                                               
to the  vendors in the  wedding industry.  The  couples typically                                                               
spend a week  to ten days, rent  a car, spend money  on food, and                                                               
book tours.  He  asserted that HB 148 would put  Alaska in a more                                                               
competitive place within the destination wedding market.                                                                        
CO-CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS stated that HB 148 would be held over.                                                                  

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
HB 148 Sponsor Statement v. A 2.11.2020.pdf HSTA 2/20/2020 3:00:00 PM
HSTA 2/27/2020 3:00:00 PM
HB 148
HB 148 Sectional Analysis 2.11.2020.pdf HJUD 3/2/2020 1:00:00 PM
HJUD 3/4/2020 1:00:00 PM
HJUD 3/6/2020 1:00:00 PM
HSTA 2/20/2020 3:00:00 PM
HSTA 2/27/2020 3:00:00 PM
HB 148
HB 225 Transmittal Letter 1.27.2020.pdf HSTA 2/20/2020 3:00:00 PM
HB 225
HB 225 Sectional Analysis v. A 1.27.2020.pdf HSTA 2/20/2020 3:00:00 PM
HB 225
HB 225 Fiscal Note Law Crim. Div. 1.27.2020.pdf HSTA 2/20/2020 3:00:00 PM
HB 225
HB 225 Fiscal Note DPS VCCB 1.27.2020.pdf HSTA 2/20/2020 3:00:00 PM
HB 225
HB 225 Fiscal Note DPS Statewide Support 1.27.2020.pdf HSTA 2/20/2020 3:00:00 PM
HB 225
HB 225 Fiscal Note DPS ABI 1.27.2020.pdf HSTA 2/20/2020 3:00:00 PM
HB 225
HB 225 Fiscal Note DOC IDO 1.27.2020.pdf HSTA 2/20/2020 3:00:00 PM
HB 225
HB 225 Fiscal Note DOA-DMV 1.27.2020.PDF HSTA 2/20/2020 3:00:00 PM
HB 225
HB 225 Fiscal Note DHSS DJJ 1.27.2020.PDF HSTA 2/20/2020 3:00:00 PM
HB 225
HB 225 Fiscal Note DOA PDA 1.27.2020.pdf HSTA 2/20/2020 3:00:00 PM
HB 225
HB 225 Fiscal Note DOA OPA 1.27.2020.pdf HSTA 2/20/2020 3:00:00 PM
HB 225
HB 148 Supporting Document HAP.pdf HSTA 2/20/2020 3:00:00 PM
HSTA 2/27/2020 3:00:00 PM
HB 148
HB 228 Supporting Document Sex Offender Registration Chart 2.18.2020.pdf HSTA 2/20/2020 3:00:00 PM
HB 228
HB 228 Supporting Document Alaska Sex Offender Recidivism and Case Processing Study 2.18.20.pdf HSTA 2/20/2020 3:00:00 PM
HB 228
HB 225 Letter of Support - Priceless Nurses 2.25.20.pdf HSTA 2/20/2020 3:00:00 PM
HB 225
HB 225 Letter of Support - AKH&LA 3.5.20.pdf HSTA 2/20/2020 3:00:00 PM
HB 225
HB 225 Letter of Support - Covenant House AK 3.3.20.pdf HSTA 2/20/2020 3:00:00 PM
HB 225
HB 225 Letter of Support - ANJC 3.3.20.pdf HSTA 2/20/2020 3:00:00 PM
HB 225