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Alaska personnel board makes gay partners 'family'

Posted: September 20, 2013 - 12:12am

ANCHORAGE — Same-sex partners of state employees will be considered as immediate family under action taken Thursday by the Alaska State Personnel Board.

The board adopted new wording in regulations that allows state employees to take leave due to a serious health condition involving a same-sex partner and include same-sex partners in the definition of immediate family for that purpose.

To be eligible, the rules state the same-sex partners must provide proof that they meet five of eight criteria, including such things as a joint mortgage or rental agreement, joint ownership of a vehicle or being named as the primary beneficiary in a partner’s will.

Same-sex marriage is barred under Alaska’s constitution. But the Alaska Supreme Court in 2005 found it is unconstitutional to offer valuable benefits to the spouses of public employees but not to same-sex domestic partners.

The three-member board unanimously adopted the language on leaves but split on the definition of a family. Members Debra English and Al Tamagni Sr. voted for the new definition, but Keith Hamilton opposed the change.

“I don’t believe ‘immediate family’ includes this definition based on our state of Alaska’s definition prior, and I’m not comfortable with it,” Hamilton said before the vote.

The rules go into effect Oct. 19.

Joshua Decker, interim director of the ACLU of Alaska, testified by phone. He thanked the board for the changes but thought some of the requirements for same-sex couples were onerous, especially since opposite-sex couples receive the benefit when one of them simply checks a box to say they are married.

He also suggested the state allow the benefit for same-sex partners who have married in states where it’s legal.

Decker also questioned why same-sex couples must be together a year for the benefit when the state only requires a three-day waiting period before opposite-sex couples can marry.

Division of Personnel and Labor Relations Director Nicki Neal said the regulations were copied from those used by the Division of Retirement and Benefits. Those rules were approved in 2007.

An opponent of the change, state Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, asked in written comments for the board to not take action until the Legislature convenes in January.

She wrote that the personnel board’s proposal was in error. She said the regulation to allow leave time to same-sex partners applies special privileges to individuals who have made a lifestyle choice, which she claimed had no basis in state law.

She also said the change could “have serious fiscal ramifications and result in a reduction of productivity by state employees,” without elaborating.

A lawyer for the personnel board, assistant Alaska Attorney General Bill Milks, said the proposed regulations were consistent with the Alaska Supreme Court decision.

“The personnel board makes decisions on proposed regulations,” Neal said. “The Legislature isn’t involved in that process. It’s the internal management of the executive branch.”

The board met in executive session for 17 minutes with Milks before approving the regulations.

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