Alaska editorial: Murkowski made right decision to call session

Posted: Friday, November 24, 2006

This editorial appeared in The Voice of the Times:

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The special session of the Legislature called by Gov. Frank Murkowski appears on the surface to be much ado about not much, and we earlier suggested it was just that. But a closer look indicates it was indeed necessary.

Murkowski's reason for the session call was the impending deadline set by the Alaska Supreme Court for the state to provide employee benefits to same-sex partners of state employees. The court's decision was known last year, but the state apparently didn't receive the court order until after the regular legislative session this year.

Lt. Gov. Loren Leman had the authority to make the decision, but he refused. It then fell to Murkowski, who called the special session, the third this year. Its opening was complicated by a heavy snowstorm that shut down Juneau's airport and delayed the arrival of many legislators.

When enough lawmakers made it to the state capital to take action, an effort began immediately to ask the court for a delay to allow the new Legislature to deal with the question in its regular session.

On Wednesday, Murkowski explained in a press conference that the implications of awarding benefits to others than spouses could create a group of entitled employee partners whose benefits could not be rescinded. It would also create a precedent that could add significantly to the state's unfunded obligations.

All that would have been done without the normal legislative consideration. For those reasons, the special session was worth calling, despite the hassle for legislators.

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