License perk for same-sex partners rejected

JUNEAU— A state House panel on Tuesday rejected extending a proposed perk for military spouses to same-sex partners of military members, citing a pending court case.

State law currently exempts military members legally licensed to drive in their home states from getting an Alaska license while they’re in the state temporarily. HB212, from Rep. Doug Isaacson, R-North Pole, would extend that allowance to their spouses.

Isaacson, in his sponsor statement, said not extending those same benefits to the spouse “can pose an unnecessary burden on the military family. HB 212 corrects that imbalance and strengthens the harmony of the family unit.”

During a hearing of the House Special Committee on Military and Veterans’ Affairs, Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, sought to amend the bill to extend the proposed benefit to same-sex partners of military members as well.

Gruenberg said he was concerned with the constitutionality of the bill as written, noting prior court decisions in cases involving state employment and property tax benefits.

Rachel Witty, with the Department of Law, said the bill doesn’t clearly violate equal protection if one reads a 2005 Alaska Supreme Court case as extending only to employment benefits. If the high court widens its holding, there might be an equal protection issue, she said.

The Supreme Court has not yet weighed in on the case against the state and municipality of Anchorage over a property tax exemption. A Superior Court judge in 2011 found the tax exemption’s marital classification violated the equal protection clause, but the case was appealed.

Committee co-chair Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, said she favored taking a wait-and-see approach when it came to Gruenberg’s amendment.

She said depending on what happens in the pending case, the state will either proceed as it has or changes will have to be made in a number of different laws. “There’s no point in singling out this particular bill right now,” she said.

Co-chair Neal Foster, D-Nome, said he supported the proposed amendment, in spite of the pending court case, “because I feel that as a Legislature, it’s our duty to also direct good public policy.”

Gruenberg and Foster voted for the amendment. LeDoux, and Reps. Pete Higgins and Shelley Hughes voted against.

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