legislators will return to Juneau on Monday for their third
special session in six months. The session was called by
Gov. Frank Murkowski to discuss court-ordered benefits
for same-sex couples.
The state is
under an Alaska supreme court order to have new regulations
in place by January 1 to provide employment benefits to
same-sex domestic partners of state employees and
lawmakers back into session after Lt. Gov. Loren Leman
refused to sign the regulations developed by the state to
provide benefits. Leman said the regulations are not
legal unless the legislature passes a law that
administration Scott Nordstrand has said that if the
legislature fails to implement the regulations, he will.
Majority lawmakers, however, plan to ask the courts to
extend the deadline. If a delay is granted, one GOP
leader said he would return next year with a
constitutional amendment to ask voters to deny the benefits.
"I am going to
propose a resolution that we disagree with the courts
and respectfully request them to let the next legislature
deal with it," said house majority leader John
initially asked Murkowski last weekend to withdraw his
call for a special legislative session, saying the issue
should not be decided by a "lame duck governor and
leader Ethan Berkowitz said the regulations are long
overdue and that he would oppose a resolution to extend the
deadline. "It's too bad that some of these people
don't like same-sex couples, but all Alaskans deserve
the protection of the constitution," said Berkowitz.
"Constitutional protections should never depend on who's
in power and when they arrive in power."
leader Gary Stevens said his caucus agrees with the
proposed resolution. He said the questions are too complex
and potential costs too high to be dealt with in
haste. He said the matter should go through a public
The benefits were
ordered by the state supreme court 13 months ago. The
high court said denying them violated the state's guarantee
of equal protection for all Alaskans because gay
couples can never become eligible for benefits offered
to married couples.
lawmakers considered but failed to pass a constitutional
amendment that would have overturned the court's ruling.
leaders also had feared the session would be used to force a
decision on a natural-gas contract. They earlier went to
court to stop Murkowski from acting independently to
sign a contract, and won a ruling. (AP)