Life, marriage, religious freedom, parent rights on Alaska legislators’ docket

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Alaska’s lawmakers reconvened Jan. 19 in Juneau for the second session of the 2015-2016 legislative season where they face myriad bills of concern to Alaskan Catholics. Below is a summary of pending legislation the Catholic Anchor has identified that would affect the protection of human life, marriage, religious freedom and parents’ rights.

To follow these bills and others and to contact your legislators, go to akleg.gov or call 800-478-4648. To follow Catholic Anchor reports, including news on public testimonies and bill hearings, go online to       CatholicAnchor.org.

The current legislative session runs Jan. 20-April 19.

DOCTOR-PRESCRIBED SUICIDE

HB 99 would permit doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to patients for the purpose of suicide. The Fifth Commandment forbids direct and intentional killing as gravely sinful. The Catholic Church also opposes suicide – doctor-prescribed or otherwise. Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz, who leads 30,000 Catholics across Southcentral Alaska, strongly opposes the bill, saying it is not about granting people a so-called “right to die,” but pushing “doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to kill people.”

Sponsors: Reps. Harriet Drummond, Andy Josephson, Max Gruenberg

Status: Introduced February 2015. Referred to Committees on Health & Social Services and Judiciary. HSS hearings in April 2015.

FAITH-BASED HEALTH CARE OPTIONS

SB 18 would exempt religious-based health care sharing ministries (HCSMs) from being regulated as health insurance in Alaska. A distinctive and attractive aspect of HCSMs for many Catholics and non-Catholic Christians alike is that HCSMs are not subject to federal or state contraceptive or abortion mandates.

Sponsor: Sen. John Coghill

Status: Introduced January 2015. Referred to Committees on Health & Social Services and Labor & Commerce. Passed out of HSS Committee March 2015. Hearing in L&C April 2015.

DEFINITION OF MARRIAGE

HJR 1 would repeal the state’s constitutional understanding of marriage, which is now defined as the union between “one man and one woman.” The Catholic Church teaches that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman.

Sponsors: Reps. Andy Josephson, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, Les Gara, Sam Kito

Status: Introduced January 2015. Referred to Committees on State Affairs, Judiciary and Finance.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN MARRIAGE CEREMONIES

HB 236 and SB 120 would protect those authorized to solemnize a marriage from being coerced to do so or being coerced to provide accommodations for the solemnization of a marriage. “A key component of the Constitution is the secure fundamental right to practice free religion and worship in America. This bill clarifies the rights for clergy in Alaska,” Rep. David Talerico explained in his sponsor statement.

Sponsors: HB 236: Rep. David Talerico

SB 120: Sen. Peter Micciche

Status: HB 236 introduced January 2016. Referred to Committee on Judiciary.

SB 120 introduced January 2016. Referred to Committees on Community & Regional Affairs and Judiciary.

SEXUAL ORIENTATION RIGHTS

HB 19, HB 42 and SB 20 aim to establish “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected classes under Alaska’s current nondiscrimination law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin and several other classifications. The proposed legislation would require state agencies, private employers, non-religious schools and other nonprofit groups to legally recognize and accommodate the preferred “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” of employees, customers, teachers, students and others regardless of their actual physical biology. These terms are derived from gender theories claiming that the reality of male and female are social constructs and not part of any natural law or given reality.

Opponents of such legislation note that it would require private business owners to hire employees who were openly living a homosexual and/or transgender lifestyle, while also forcing service companies and rental organizations to promote, serve and facilitate causes and events which violate their moral beliefs, especially in the area of sexuality.

Sponsors: HB 19: Reps. Andy Josephson, Les Gara, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, Max Gruenberg, Sam Kito, Geran Tarr, Chris Tuck

HB 42: Reps. Cathy Munoz, Benjamin Nageak, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, Les Gara, Andy Josephson, Geran Tarr, Sam Kito, Harriet Drummond

SB 20: Sens. Berta Gardner, Johnny Ellis

Status: HB 19 introduced January 2015. Referred to Committees on State Affairs and Judiciary. HB 42 introduced January 2015. Referred to Committees on State Affairs and Judiciary. SB 20 introduced January 2015. Referred to Committees on Health & Social Services, Judiciary and Finance.

RELIGIOUS CONVICTIONS ON UNION DUES

SB 44 would allow employees for reasons of religious conviction to direct their union dues to a charity of their choice.

Sponsor: Sen. Cathy Giessel

Status: Introduced February 2015. Referred to Committees on Labor & Commerce and Judiciary. Passed out of Labor & Commerce April 2015.

PARENTAL RIGHTS IN   EDUCATION

SB 89 seeks to ensure a parent has the right to direct the education of his or her public school child, including the right to object to and withdraw the child from state-mandated tests, and from activities or classes on sexual matters. The bill also would prohibit public schools from administering student questionnaires that inquire into personal or private family affairs of the student. And the bill would prevent school districts from contracting with an abortion services provider for course materials or to provide instruction relating to human sexuality. According to the Catholic Catechism, “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children.”

Sponsors: Sens. Mike Dunleavy, Cathy Giessel, Charlie Huggins, Bill Stoltze, Pete Kelly, Anna MacKinnon, John Coghill, Kevin Meyer

Status: Introduced March 2015. Referred to Committees on Education, State Affairs and Rules.


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