Legislature(2017 - 2018)BUTROVICH 205
04/03/2018 03:30 PM Senate STATE AFFAIRS
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HB 20-SOLEMNIZE MARRIAGE: ELECTED OFFICIALS 4:42:54 PM CHAIR MEYER announced the consideration of House Bill 20 (HB 20). 4:43:23 PM REPRESENTATIVE MATT CLAMAN, Alaska State Legislature, Juneau, Alaska, sponsor of HB 20, provided an overview as follows: In financially challenging times like we face, I'm reminded that part of our role as elected officials is to reduce red-tape and make government accessible to the public. In introducing this bill, I would like to make marriage more easily accessible. The bill will allow couples to have their marriage solemnized directly by elected officials. He noted that "elected officials" includes mayors, school board members, anyone that has been elected to public office. He specified the bill will allow elected officials to perform the marriages without making couples go down to the courthouse to get a marriage commissioner's license. He said the bill will allow public officials to be the "friendly face of government" while providing a service to the public. He added that being allowed to perform a marriage would be a privilege and elected officials would be fortunate to have the opportunity to solemnize a marriage from time to time. He said the bill puts into statute the constitutional principle that religious figures and others cannot be compelled to perform a marriage ceremony. 4:44:44 PM SARA PERMAN, Staff, Representative Claman, Alaska State Legislature, Juneau, Alaska, provided an overview and sectional analysis of HB 20. HB 20 amends Alaska's marriage code to add language that allows for marriages to be solemnized by elected officials of the State of Alaska. Section 1 amends AS 25.05.261(a) relating to who may solemnize a marriage, currently the statute only allows for marriage solemnization by a religious official which includes ministers, priests, rabbis or commissioned officers of the Salvation Army, a marriage commissioner or judicial officer, or before or in any religious organization or congregation. HB 20 adds language to add to the list an individual holding an elected public office in the state. Section 2 adds a new subsection to the same statute that says, "No religious official, organization or elected official that is authorized for marriages is obligated to do so." AS 25.05.281 which allows marriages solemnized by an unauthorized person professing to be authorized is to be considered valid as amended in section 3 to include language that reads that marriages solemnized by an elected official is considered valid whereas someone professing to be an elected official. The purpose of this bill is to make marriage accessible to all Alaskans. We recognize that marriage opens doors for many people. There are over 1100 places in federal laws and programs for being married expands an individual's opportunities, examples include access to healthcare for one's spouse or having eligibility for family medical leave. Frankly, we believe that this bill is a family-first bill that allows people to receive greater benefits that are good for all Alaskans. Additionally, HB 20 allows elected officials to be good stewards of government, it allows elected officials to interact on a one-on-one basis with constituents providing a service that has a lasting impact on constituents' lives. Whereas couples can currently have anyone solemnize marriage through a marriage commissioner appointment, there's a $25 fee and the process can be time consuming. Having an elected official available provides simplified cost- free outlet. This amendment may also apply to couples who may not be affiliated with a particular religious organization, they would be able to have an elected official perform their wedding without having to go through the process of arranging for a marriage commissioner appointment. In smaller towns or rural area with limited resources, this change provides one more outlet for marriage solemnization; for example, if a couple in a remote Alaska village is set to be married and the minister becomes ill, the mayor could step-in in short notice. With that, I'll stress that nothing in this bill mandates that elected officials must solemnize marriage and I'll also note that the Department of Health and Social Services has assigned a zero-fiscal note to this bill. This bill actually removes an expense to citizens who would otherwise pay a $25 fee for a marriage commissioner appointment. 4:47:45 PM SENATOR COGHILL disclosed that he has been a marriage commissioner and noted that paperwork involved. He asked if paperwork would be required for elected officials as well. REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN answered no. He explained that an elected official's marriage solemnization procedure would be like others that are identified that can perform marriages such as a Salvation Army officer. He explained that part of the point is that somebody could call up an elected official on short notice to perform the ceremony. SENATOR COGHILL asked what documentation would be required for the marriage ceremony. 4:48:56 PM REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN replied as follows: The marriage license itself that when somebody gets married now would be somebody that has a marriage commissioners license or judge, or minister would actually sign the form that the marriage license saying this is the day they got married. SENATOR COGHILL asked to confirm that the process Representative Claman explained would be up to the couple. REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN answered right, but the signature would come from the elected official that indicated who they are. SENATOR COGHILL explained that his intent was to learn how the practically played out as far as signing the solemnization. He asked to confirm that the signature would be on the license document. He noted that the license document is what the couple applies for. REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN answered correct. He explained that the bill would not remove the need for a couple to get a marriage license. CHAIR MEYER asked to confirm that elected officials can currently perform marriages without passing the bill. REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN answered correct but noted that either the elected official or couple would have to stand in line to get the marriage license. 4:50:43 PM CHAIR MEYER asked if the process can be done online. REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN replied that he did not know. MS. PERMAN referenced an email from Nancy Meade, [general counsel for the Alaska Court System], that addressed a similar question from a previous committee hearing as follows: You asked whether the marriage commissioner applicant must be physically at the court counter to get an appointment order. No, this may vary by court location, but in Anchorage and Juneau for example, I learn that they even process applications that they receive in the mail if signed, and the couple can bring the signed form without the commissioner applicant present, I believe that is true for nearly all Alaska courts. CHAIR MEYER asked if former elected officials can perform or does the bill apply to current elected officials. REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN answered that the bill only applies to elected officials that are currently serving. CHAIR MEYER asked to confirm that the bill would only pertain to the State of Alaska and that a person could not go to Oregon for their marriage. REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN answered no, the bill applies to Alaska. SENATOR WILSON asked Representative Claman to address the bill's current version where version J was amended to delete the language about an individual holding elected public office may refuse to solemnize a marriage for any reason. 4:54:04 PM REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN explained that section 2 in the "O" version clarifies as follows: When three of the four categories of individuals can be compelled to perform a marriage, the only individual that could be compelled to perform a marriage would be members of the judiciary and they recognize that that's part of their job. SENATOR WILSON asked why the change in the language from the previous version. REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN explained that the final version of the bill expands the group of people who can decline to perform a marriage for whatever reason. SENATOR WILSON asked what would occur if the mayor of a city performed marriages for a fee at city hall but declined to perform marriages to certain individuals. REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN replied as follows: It's a two-part answer, if the mayor went into a business as you described of performing marriages in city hall, then I think you would have issues about public access to city hall and so in that specific instance you might run into a more complicated question. On the other hand, if the mayor was performing marriages in his backyard and he had a nice garden and was doing it in his garden and it wasn't a public facility in anyway, then this statute would allow the mayor to say, "I'm not going to marry a gay couple, I'm not going to marry an interracial couple, I'm not going to marry whoever," you could make that choice but I think if it's going on in city hall then I think you'll have a little different question. 4:56:37 PM CHAIR MEYER commented as follows: My overall first opinion of this was that it's definitely an honor and a privilege to be an elected official and have people trust us to vote on their behalf. I almost think this is putting us now in a different class than other folks because now we don't have to stand in line, we don't have to go to the web and pay the fee and all that. Are we kind of elevating ourselves in status by doing something like this? REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN replied that he did not think the bill would elevate public officials. He noted that he has heard from several people that they would appreciate having elected officials solemnize marriages as part of their public service. CHAIR MEYER noted that no one has asked him to solemnize a marriage. SENATOR WILSON asked if the legislation has gone through an ethics review to verify whether an elected official can be paid for solemnizing marriages. REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN conceded that the topic of one getting paid had never crossed his mind. He pointed out that the bill does not authorize a person to get paid and noted that payment would raise a question related to ethics issues. He remarked that if someone were to ask him to solemnize a marriage that he would not ask to be paid. He said he suspected to the extent that if somebody did want to get paid that the request would need to go to ethic analysis. CHAIR MEYER remarked that he was under the same impression that public officials would do the service for free if someone had enough trust and respect to ask. SENATOR EGAN disclosed that he had solemnized three marriages and his payment was "champagne and wedding cake." 5:00:43 PM CHAIR MEYER opened public testimony and noted that no one had requested to testify. He asked to confirm that the amended bill had a change in opinion from the Alaska Family Council. MS. PERMAN answered correct. 5:01:49 PM CHAIR MEYER closed public testimony. He noted that he has reviewed submitted testimony and the comments on the bill have been favorable. He added that the bill has a zero fiscal note. 5:02:07 PM SENATOR GIESSEL moved to report CSHB 20(JUD), version 30- LS0242\O from committee with individual recommendations and attached zero fiscal note. 5:02:18 PM CHAIR MEYER announced there being no objection, the motion carried.