November 13, 2003
Both Gara and Berkowitz voted "yes" on the final passage of the bill, but in a press release issued on November 11, the two Anchorage Democrats blasted the bill and called on Governor Frank H. Murkowski to "reinstate rights of Alaska military members that were taken away last legislative session."
"It is unfortunate that these particular Democrats were so eager to make a political point, they have the facts about this legislation wrong," Murkowski press secretary John Manly said. "House bill 245 did not take away the rights of any Alaska military members. It simply treats Alaska National Guard members the same as the federal government treats the US military under federal law."
The bill clarified that if National Guard members are injured while on duty as a result of a call-out by the Governor, then the state pays the workers compensation. If they are under federal orders, the federal government would pay claims.
"Military injured on active duty are covered by workers compensation," Manly said. "The Alaska Supreme Court had subjected the state to additional tort liability in the case of active duty accidents. Alaska was the only state in the Union with this additional tort liability. The legislation made Alaska law consistent with federal law. We are now the same as everybody else."
Governor Murkowski said he was outraged.
"As a veteran myself, I take it personally that anyone would suggest that I would take away the rights of military men and women," Murkowski said. "The legislation Mr. Gara and Mr. Berkowitz voted for, and which I signed, did not do that. Nor does it prevent an injured party from suing a state worker who causes an accident while off-duty. Their grandstanding on this issue, especially on Veterans Day, is a cheap political shot taken at the expense of Alaska's veterans."
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