JUNEAU -- A bill aimed at preventing the state from having to pay for abortions or for benefits for unmarried partners won approval in the Senate on Sunday.
On a 12-8 vote, senators approved Senate Bill 210, which states that rights to privacy set out in the Alaska Constitution do not create a right to receive public money, a public benefit or a public service.
Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, sponsored the bill in part to respond to a 1999 decision by Superior Court Judge Sen Tan that a state ban on funding abortions for poor women was an unconstitutional infringement of the right to privacy. Tan ruled the state could not discriminate among pregnancy-related services. The case has been appealed.
The privacy clause also came up in a lawsuit, filed on behalf of several gay couples, that contends the state should provide health and other benefits to employees' unmarried partners. The suit argues that failing to do so violates the equal rights and privacy clauses of the Alaska Constitution.
Kelly said courts have misinterpreted Alaskans' right to privacy.
''The courts have used it to achieve ends that most Alaskans do not agree with,'' Kelly said.
Unlike other rights stated in the constitution, Kelly said, the right to privacy comes with a caveat.
''The Legislature shall implement this section,'' he said, quoting the constitution.
''Why do they ignore that? Why are they so aggressive in ignoring it in court cases?'' Kelly asked. ''Maybe it's because the Legislature has not implemented this section.''
Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, D-Rampart, voted no and said the bill has little to do with privacy.
''It places limits and restrictions on individuals, especially the poor,'' she said.
Lincoln said the bill was introduced April 27 and heard by just one committee, Senate Judiciary, last Thursday. Kelly was the only person to testify on the bill.
''There was no public notice, therefore the public wasn't allowed an opportunity to be heard on a major piece of legislation,'' Lincoln said.
Groups are already questioning the legality of the measure, she said. Though the bill is not projected to cost the state money, Lincoln said, the state will pay thousands when it's challenged.
''I think that we're going to pay for this piece of legislation through the courts,'' Lincoln said.
The bill now moves to the House.
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