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Sen. Wielechowski plans bill aimed at service member PFDs

Posted: January 3, 2013 - 12:09am

An Anchorage senator said Wednesday he plans to introduce legislation allowing active-duty military members who have maintained residency while living outside Alaska for more than 10 years to remain eligible for Permanent Fund dividends.

The proposal will show the state appreciates the service of the military members, said state Sen. Bill Wielechowski, a Democrat whose district includes Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

The money is paid to nearly all Alaskans annually as their share of the state’s oil wealth. Starting with the 2009 dividend, people who had claimed allowable absences for the 10 preceding years and who continued to be absent for more than 180 days in a year were not eligible for dividends.

The law does not apply to members of Congress, their staff members or their families.

Marine Brian Ross has sued the state, arguing among other things that the 10-year rule violated equal protection clauses of the Alaska and U.S. constitutions because it was applied to members of the military but not to members of Congress. Ross also argued that the rule added new consequences to a decision he had made before it was created.

In September, the Alaska Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that Ross is ineligible for the dividend, even though he has maintained residency.

Wielechowski’s bill would create an exclusion for active-duty service members, though he said they still would have to meet other eligibility requirements.

To establish residency and receive the dividend, they must meet several requirements that include maintaining Alaska residency at all times during the qualifying year, and intending to remain an Alaska resident indefinitely. They also must take at least one step beyond being physically present, such as buying a home or getting an Alaska driver’s license.

The bill is similar to legislation proposed in 2011 by Wielechowski and Republican Rep. Eric Feige of Chickaloon. Feige’s bill advanced and passed the state House last year but never made it to a Senate vote. It got caught up in the last-minute shuffle in the waning hours of the regular session.

Ross’ father, attorney Wayne Anthony Ross, said the issue needs to be addressed. He said his son is stationed in Okinawa and intends to return to Alaska to live after his service ends. Ross said his son sees the current situation as a “slap in the face by his home state for choosing to serve his country.”

Wielechowski estimates a small number of service members — perhaps 17 or 20 — would benefit from the proposed military exclusion. But he said it would show them that “your service is just as valued as the service of our congressional delegation.”

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