Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Alaska State House Fails To Pass Constitutional Amendment (HJR 9) To Outlaw Same Sex Benefits To Public Employees

On Monday May 7th, 2007, the Alaska State House of Representatives failed to pass a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow voters the chance to deny court-ordered benefits for same-sex partners of public employees. Full story from the Anchorage Daily News, along with a list of how House members voted. Additional stories from KTUU Channel 2 Anchorage and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

The measure, identified as HJR 9, received an affirmative vote of 22-14; however, a two-thirds vote is needed to pass constitutional amendments in the Alaska State Legislature. This means 27 Yes votes in the 40-member House, and 14 Yes votes in the 20-member Senate. Voting was primarily along party lines, with 21 Republicans and one Democrat voting Yes, while 12 Democrats and two Republicans voted No.

However, representatives could reconsider the vote if backers can muster a two-thirds majority, which is needed for the proposed amendment to ever move to voters. HJR 9 primary sponsor John Coghill (R-North Pole), who first introduced the bill back in February, asked for reconsideration after the vote. However, he must move quickly; while the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on May 16th, there was talk on KFQD conservative shock jock Dan Fagan's radio program today of the Legislature adjourning as early as May 14th.

Resolution sponsor John Coghill, R-North Pole (pictured above left), asked for reconsideration after the measure failed 22-14. Twenty-seven votes in the House and 14 votes in the Senate are needed to reach the required majority. Coghill later told the Daily News-Miner that he believed he could convince two more House members to vote Yes on reconsideration.

An identical resolution, SJR 9, was introduced in the Senate by Senator Fred Dyson (R-Eagle River) in late April but has not had a committee hearing. The Senate measure has three committee referrals before it can reach the floor for a vote.

To clarify, neither HJR 9 nor the Senate version would actually amend the state constitution immediately. Instead, it would simply create a constitutional amendment to be placed on the statewide election ballot that, if passed in November 2008, would overturn the infamous 2005 Alaska Supreme Court order requiring health and retirement benefits be offered to the partners of gay state employees. The court decided that denying the benefits to same-sex domestic partners violated the state constitution's guarantee of equal protection.

Click HERE to see the full text of the Alaska Supreme Court's 30-page original decision from October 2005 in PDF format.

Opponents of HJR 9 say the issue is about providing earned health care benefits to those employees. Proponents of HJR 9 say it is a veiled attempt to legitimize homosexuality and undermine marriage as defined by voters in 1998 in the state constitution as between a man and a woman. In addition, the 2005 Alaska Supreme Court ruling implicitly directs financial appropriations, a task not normally considered within the judiciary's purview.

Initial estimates of the cost of this decision to the state ran as high as $1.2 million. However, during the initial open enrollment period, only 67 state employees signed up their partners for benefits, according to the state Department of Administration. Based on average per-capita claim costs in 2006, the smaller-then-expected number of enrollees could cost the state only about $350,000 a year.

In an April 3rd advisory vote, 53 percent of Alaska voters said lawmakers should send the proposed constitutional amendment to the November 2008 ballot. However, that vote -- which cost the state about $775,000 -- had no binding authority.

Even if the legislative session expires before a reconsideration vote, all is not lost. Either the Governor could call a special legislative session anytime later this year, or the legislative leadership itself could call a special session. It's important for pro-family Alaskans to keep the pressure on - thank the lawmakers who voted Yes, and chide the ones who voted No.

Click HERE to find out how to contact state lawmakers.

Here's a breakdown on how lawmakers voted:

VOTING YES (the "Heroes"):

Mike Chenault (R-Nikiski)
Jack Coghill (R-North Pole)
Nancy Dahlstrom (R-Eagle River)
Anna Fairclough (R-Eagle River)
Carl Gatto (R-Palmer)
John Harris (R-Valdez)
Kyle Johansen (R-Ketchikan)
Craig Johnson (R-Anchorage)
Mike Kelly (R-Fairbanks)
Vic Kohring (R-Wasilla)
Gabrielle LeDoux (R-Kodiak)
Bob Lynn (R-Anchorage) click HERE to read Rep. Lynn's blog post on his actions
Kevin Meyer (R-Anchorage)
Mark Neuman (R-Big Lake)
Kurt Olson (R-Kenai)
Jay Ramras (R-Fairbanks)
Bob Roses (R-Anchorage)
Ralph Samuels (R-Anchorage)
Bill Stoltze (R-Chugiak)
Bill Thomas (R-Haines)
Peggy Wilson (R-Wrangell)
Woodie Salmon (D-Beaver) a courageous Democrat

VOTING NO (the "Zeroes")

Bob Buch (D-Anchorage)
Sharon Cissna (D-Anchorage)
Harry Crawford (D-Anchorage)
Andrea Doll (D-Juneau)
Mike Doogan (D-Anchorage)
Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham)
Les Gara (D-Anchorage)
Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage)
Max Gruenberg (D-Anchorage)
David Guttenberg (D-Fairbanks)
Lindsey Holmes (D-Anchorage)
Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks)
Mike Hawker (R-Anchorage)
Paul Seaton (R-Homer)

EXCUSED (the "Wusses")

Richard Foster (D-Nome)
Reggie Joule (D-Kotzebue)
Beth Kerttula (D-Juneau)
Mary Nelson (D-Bethel) formerly known as Mary Kapsner before she got married

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