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Alaska's governor
calls special session to determine DP benefits

Alaska's governor
calls special session to determine DP benefits

The governor of Alaska called a special session of the state legislature Friday to determine how the state should pay court-ordered benefits for same-sex domestic partners of state employees and retirees. Gov. Frank Murkowski called the special session over the objections of Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, who questioned his authority to implement the regulations. The state is facing a January 1 deadline. Scott Nordstrand, commissioner of the Department of Administration, said he wants to make sure the regulations that are adopted can withstand any legal challenge. ''This is to solve a very real problem in short order,'' he said. The 30-day session is scheduled to start November 13. However, Nordstrand said if the legislature, which did not take up the issue during its regular session and two subsequent special sessions on the natural gas pipeline contract, failed to implement regulations, he would. The issue goes back to 1999, when the American Civil Liberties Union and nine couples filed a lawsuit challenging the lack of benefits for same-sex partners of those employed by the state and the municipality of Anchorage. About a year ago, the state supreme court ordered the state of Alaska to extend benefits to same-sex couples, finding that denying them violated the state's guarantee of equal protection for all Alaskans because the state constitution restricts marriage to a man and a woman. The supreme court set a deadline of January 1 for having the benefits in place and sent the lawsuit back to a lower court for implementation. Last month superior court judge Stephanie Joannides sided with the ACLU in finding that the regulations proposed by the state were too restrictive. The judge also found that the types of benefits to be offered to same-sex couples were too narrow. The proposed rules, for example, required that same-sex couples attest to being in a committed relationship for at least 12 months and document each year they are still together. Joannides found that requirement to be ''excessively burdensome.'' Michael Macleod-Ball, executive director of the ACLU of Alaska, said the state's preliminary regulations required same-sex couples to satisfy six of nine criteria. After the judge's ruling, the state ''tweaked'' them to require five of eight be met, he said. Macleod-Ball said he expected a response from the court on the state's most recent proposal within days. (Mary Pemberton, AP)

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