Concern raised about same-sex benefit requirements

JUNEAU — State employees would have to overcome “pretty substantial hurdles” to qualify for family leave to be with ailing same-sex partners under new rules being considered in Alaska, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska said.

But Tom Stenson also said the proposed changes to state leave rules are better than nothing.

The Alaska State Personnel Board is scheduled to meet next month in Anchorage to consider changes in leave rules that would allow state employees to take leave due to a serious health condition of a same-sex partner. Proposed changes also would include same-sex partners of state workers in the definition of “immediate family” for purposes of leave. Stenson said his group would submit comments to the board.

Since the meeting was first announced, more details of the proposal have been released. For employees to be eligible for family leave for same-sex partners, they must provide proof that they and their partners meet at least five criteria. Those include joint interest in property such as a mortgage or rental agreement; joint ownership of a checking, savings or investment account; joint ownership or purchase of a car; having the partner named as a primary beneficiary in the employee’s will; having a valid power of attorney; and having given the partner written authority to make decisions about the employee’s health and well-being if the employee cannot on his or her own.

Employees eligible for family and health leave also must certify, among other things, that they and their partners have been in an “exclusive, committed and intimate” relationship and lived together for the past year.

Similar requirements to these must be met currently for same-sex partners of state employees to be on their insurance.

Stenson said the proposed new requirements aren’t easy to meet and can be time-consuming and expensive. He said many people don’t have wills or advanced health-care directives.

“These are not minor hoops to jump through,” he said.

A deputy director within the state Division of Personnel and Labor Relations has said the proposed change in rules stems from a recent review of a 2005 Alaska Supreme Court decision.

That decision, in a case over health insurance and other benefits, found it is unconstitutional to offer valuable benefits to the spouses of public employees but not to same-sex domestic partners.

That reviewed followed a request by a Juneau corrections officer to take family leave to care for her partner, who was undergoing cancer treatment. Attorneys, including those from ACLU of Alaska, wrote the commissioners of Corrections and Administration in June on behalf of the officer.

Stenson called the proposed new rules “half a loaf.”

“I don’t want to complain too much about it for that reason, but it’s half a loaf,” he said. “These are pretty severe restrictions.”

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