27 October 2006

Quack, quack!

Governor Murkowski and Lieutenant Governor Leman are quacking all the way to December 4th:

Gov. Frank Murkowski will call state lawmakers back to Juneau for a special session Nov. 13 to pass legislation that would enable the state to provide gay-partner employment benefits.
As I understand the argument, Loren Leman told Scott Nordstrand that Leman would not implement the regulations establishing the benefits because he did not think he had the authority to do so. (Quick question - has Leman ever raised this objection on any other set of regulations or does he only do so when the regulations contravene his social beliefs?) Nordstrand said he'd continue to pursue the regulations but also recommended the legislature be brought into the discussion.

The question for me is if this is all not just an elaborate political ploy to get the legislature back in Juneau and have them either a) consider the gas pipeline contract or b) be the fall guy for an administration that doesn't want to implement same-sex benefits.

I talked to Michael MacCleod-Ball, the ACLU-Alaska's director, briefly this afternoon and he thinks there's no need to go to special session:
During the session earlier this year, there was no attempt made by the administration to advance some sort of statutory relief. The state has said on its own the regulatory process is the way do this. And now at the final moment, the state says, "No no, I think we really need to go back to the legislature despite the fact that we've been representing to court and to the plantiffs that the regulatory process would be adequate all along."
He also said Loren Leman overstepped his bounds:
I think the lieutenant governor's role in this legally is ministerial in nature and I don't think there's any independent decision-making authority to decide whether a regulation is going to be adopted or not. If that were the case then, in effect, the lieutenant governor would have veto authority over the governor's executive department.
(This, incidentally, is how constitutional crises start: a government official starts using his legal obligations in the way they're not normally used. The argument is then between tradition and common practice on the one hand and what's written on paper on the other hand.)

It does strike me as odd that while pursuing a regulatory process, not a single person in the administration (beyond Loren Leman!) could have the wherewithal to say, "Hey, wait a sec. We might be overstepping our bounds here. Perhaps we should call in the legislature." I asked Governor Murkowski's spokesman, John Manly, that and he said it's a question of process:
The lieutenant governor is kind of at the end of the process and he's the guy who gets the regulation after they've gone through the entire process and is the person who signs and files them. And in his review of it, he concluded that the thing didn't have the right foundation under it.
Loren Leman - the constitutional and legal saviour of the state of Alaska. Who'd have thunk it?

And what happens when the legislature gets this hot potato? They're obligated by the courts to implement the benefits and Nordstrand has said he's going ahead with the regulations just in case. The outcome is foreordained regardless of what the legislature does.

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