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Anderson: Portion of city code violates state constitution

Posted: Sunday, October 17, 2010

A tax exemption policy on the City and Borough of Juneau's books technically violates the Alaska Constitution, and Assemblyman Jonathan Anderson wants it corrected.

He addressed the assembly on Friday and presented the problem and two ways of fixing it.

The city code allows senior citizens to apply for an exemption to the sales tax. Their "spouses" who are under age 65 are allowed the same benefit.

Anderson said that's where the language is unconstitutional, and cited ACLU vs. State and Municipality of Anchorage, a 2005 Alaska Supreme Court case. Alaska state law prohibits same sex marriages, but on the same token the tax exemption benefit can't exclude domestic partners or folks who can't get married, the state's top court ruled then.

"The law says you can't exclude people on basis of marriage when one group is excluded from getting married," Anderson said in an interview. "To make our code constitutional, we need to add 'and same-sex partners.'"

The other option to fix the issue of violating the state constitution, is for the city to no longer offer a sales tax exemption for all senior citizens.

Anderson noted the city already addressed this issue in other portions of its code, including establishing rules for providing benefits for domestic partners of its employees.

City Attorney John Hartle said he had reviewed the information and found Anderson's assessment to be correct.

Hartle said if the assembly chooses to go the route of inserting the language "or same-sex partners" it will have to be sure similar documentation standards are implemented as with married couples.

"I will suggest what it probably apparent," said Assemblyman Bob Doll. "What we really want to do is insert the language, 'or same-sex partners' and proceed that way."

The finance committee will review the code amendment issue at its November meeting.

"The assembly will have to decide do we remove it entirely or do we provide it for same sex partners," Anderson said in an interview.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or sarah.day@juneauempire.com.



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