Superior Court says state must come up with revised regs

Posted: Friday, November 03, 2006

ANCHORAGE - A judge is refusing to give the state of Alaska more time to revise its requirements for providing same-sex benefits for domestic partners of state employees and retirees.

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Superior Court Judge Stephanie Joannides previously ordered the state to make specific revisions to its proposed regulations by Wednesday.

Department of Law spokesman Mark Morones said Thursday that the state did not submit any new proposed regulations by the deadline, preferring instead to wait to see if the Supreme Court would accept its request to review the case.

The state argues that the Superior Court judge does not have the authority to order the specific changes to the regulations, which set out certain requirements that same-sex couples must meet to qualify for the benefits.

"Obviously, we have concerns about what she is trying to do," Morones said.

Allison Mendel, a private attorney working with the Alaska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which helped bring the case, called the state's delay "contempt of court."

"The state must comply with this court's orders so if the Supreme Court denies review, regulations are ready for immediate adoption," Joannides said.

Joannides earlier this week ordered the state to revise the draft regulations to remove a relationship exclusivity requirement and shorten from 12 months to six months the requirement that same-sex couples be in a long-term relationship.

The judge also ordered that one of the required criteria for benefits be reinserted. It would allow same-sex domestic partners who are jointly responsible for a child to use that as a qualifying criteria for benefits.

Joannides said the state must allow the same-sex partners of state employees to take personal leave for family medically problems to take care of spouse and kids, and allow the partners to receive the last remaining paycheck if the state employee dies. The judge also ordered the state to direct death benefits to the same-sex partner if the employee failed to designate anyone to receive the payment.

The issue goes back to 1999 when the ACLU and nine couples filed a lawsuit challenging the lack of benefits for same-sex couples employed by the state and the municipality of Anchorage.

The high court ruled that denying benefits to same-sex domestic partners violated the state's guarantee of equal protection for all Alaskans. That's because the state constitution restricts marriage to between a man and a woman.

The high court last summer set the deadline for the state and the Municipality of Anchorage to begin providing the benefits by January and sent the lawsuit to the Superior Court for implementation.

Last month, Joannides sided with the ACLU in finding that the regulations proposed by the state were too restrictive. The judge also found that the types of benefits to be offered to same-sex couples were too narrow.

The state responded by paring some of the requirements to get benefits. Critics, however, said the new proposal was still too onerous, especially when all that was required of heterosexual couples to get benefits was a marriage license.

Joannides agreed that the requirements for same-sex benefits was burdensome, and ordered the changes.

Mendel said the crux of the argument is what criteria will be required to extend benefits.

"We are not asking for any benefits not offered to married couples," she said.

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