FAIRBANKS — The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that Alaskans must live in the state for six straight months to qualify for allowable absences to receive the annual oil dividend payments given to permanent residents.
The court, in a 3-2 decision Friday, sided with the state in a case brought by 172nd Stryker Brigade serviceman Richard Heller.
Heller sued after being denied a dividend in 2007, arguing a six-month residency requirement treated new residents different than established residents and was unconstitutional, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. Each year, most Alaskans receive a dividend as their share of the state’s oil wealth.
Heller arrived in Alaska in June 2005, registered to vote, got an Alaska driver’s license and noted Alaska residency in his military records. He deployed to Iraq two months after arriving and spent much of 2006 on duty.
The state determined that because he hadn’t established six months of residency before leaving, he failed to qualify for an allowable absence, thus failing to meet residency requirements for the 2007 dividend. Rules require that dividend recipients must be residents for at least six months before qualifying for an allowable absence to be outside Alaska more than 180 days for things like college or a military deployment.
Now-retired Chief Justice Walter Carpeneti, writing for the majority, said the six-month residency requirement was intended to determine whether someone is a “bona fide resident” or not.
Without it, seasonal workers or visitors might stay long enough to establish “paper ties” in Alaska, he wrote. “In this context, physically residing in the state for six consecutive months is not an excessively long requirement to establish the bona fides of PFD claimants before they depart the state — often for lengthy periods of time,” he wrote.
State law allows different standards for residency for different laws, and the court found that a higher standard for the dividend was allowable.
Justice Daniel Winfree, who wrote the dissenting opinion supported by Justice Craig Stowers, said the interpretation that Heller wasn’t a resident because he wasn’t physically in Alaska incorrect “comes from thin air.”
He argued the six-month requirement wasn’t the “bona fide residency” test that the prevailing opinion ruled it to be and said it treats residents unfairly and should be found unconstitutional.
He said the court should have reversed the lower decisions and ordered that Heller be awarded his 2007 dividend.