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Domestic Partnership News Archive
December 21 - December 28, 2001

 

 

 
 

This page contains news for the period December 21, 2001 through December 28, 2001.

 

 

 

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Friday, December 28, 2001

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Advocates pressure Massachusetts lawmaker to take up domestic partner benefits bill

A story published today by the Boston Globe reports that supporters of domestic partner benefits in Massachusetts are planning to pressure House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran into finally allowing their bill to be taken up by the House.

Advocates say it's time to give health benefits to the partners of state workers, gay and straight, and to allow cities and towns to do the same if they want. Forty House cosponsors of the bill are drafting a letter to Finneran asking that he allow the long-stalled measure to reach the House floor when formal sessions resume next year.

''We will not just be sitting on our hands,'' said state Representative Jarrett T. Barrios, D-Cambridge. ''It is time that democracy prevails on domestic partnership legislation. We believe we have the votes, and we are hoping the speaker will let it out of ways and means.''

The Senate has passed the measure three times, including in September, but House members have not been able to vote on it because Finneran and other House leaders snag it in committees every year.

If the bill's supporters succeed in getting a vote on domestic partner benefits, they'll push the House into what promises to be among the most heated debates on Beacon Hill next year.

But Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham said he sees no value in waiting. The private sector is increasingly offering benefits to non-married homosexual and heterosexual couples, and eight states have already done likewise, including Connecticut, Maine, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

''It's a matter of respecting people's dignity,'' Birmingham said. ''This is a form of discrimination in the workplace which should not be countenanced.''

Finneran, a socially conservative Democrat, declined to comment. His Ways and Means chairman, Representative John H. Rogers of Norwood, has not taken a public position on the measure, but said he is concerned about its cost and is not sure whether the bill is constitutional.

If enacted, the domestic partnership benefits would cost the state between $2.2 million and $7.1 million a year, according to the Massachusetts Group Insurance Commission, which handles health insurance for state workers. Acting Governor Jane Swift has said she supports the bill, though she opposes gay marriage.

Thursday, December 27, 2001

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Washington’s city of Burien approves domestic partners benefits to city employees

A story published today by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that Washington’s Burien city council has voted to extend benefits to the domestic partners of employees, a move that takes it where big cities and corporations have already gone.

Burien city officials call it a relatively minor expense that will help attract and retain good employees. The city of 30,000 has about 50 employees.

The coverage will take the form of a reimbursement to employees equal to the premiums paid for a spouse and children of married workers. Leslie Stevenson, an accountant for Burien, said the city's insurer, the Association of Washington Cities, declined to offer domestic-partner insurance because a survey of its members showed little interest.

"No one was strongly pushing for it," Stevenson said.

So Burien officials decided to offer the coverage on the same basis as the city of Tumwater -- by paying for it after interested employees find coverage for themselves.

"They will be responsible for finding insurance, and we will reimburse them," she said.

Stevenson, who researched the topic for the Burien City Council, said council members first expressed interest in the idea about 18 months ago.

Most places that offer the coverage average about 4 to 5 percent participation among employees, she said, and Burien is anticipating perhaps only two employees may request domestic-partner coverage.

The Burien coverage begins Jan. 1, and will cover both same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partnerships.

The City Council unanimously approved the policy Dec. 17. There has been no known opposition, Stevenson said.

Employees can apply for the coverage by filing an affidavit attesting to the domestic partnership. Employees will have to submit proof of the paid insurance expenses to be reimbursed.

Wednesday, December 26, 2001

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Milwaukee city workers sign up for partner health coverage

A story published today by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that fourteen Milwaukee city workers have signed up for health benefits for their unmarried partners well below what opponents of the benefits feared.

The controversial domestic partner benefits, negotiated last summer with the city's largest union, now are available to about half of the city's work force of about 9,400. They take effect Jan. 1.

With 14 employees signed up during the first enrollment period in which the benefit was available, the cost to taxpayers next year will be about $67,200.

When the plan was expanded to all unmarried couples, critics feared it would mean many more city employees signing up for the benefits. But workers are taxed on the value of the health benefits given to domestic partners, which may have caused some to rethink applying for them.

And state law prohibits the coverage from going to children not legally adopted by the city worker, another hurdle for many.

"It's merely an option for those who are in a committed relationship," said Ald. Mike D'Amato, a supporter of the benefits. "Critics have to realize people aren't out to engage in a fraud or get something they haven't earned."

Nevertheless, the cost is expected to rise in the future as more city employee unions negotiate for the benefit, which has become a standard part of the settlement packages. About half of the city employees, including non-union and management workers, are now eligible for domestic partner health benefits.

To receive the benefits, city employees must sign up on the city's domestic partner registry, which originally was created as a symbolic way for same-sex couples to declare their relationship.

To be on the list, couples must pay $30, live together and be over 18. They cannot be related. The couples must show they meet at least three of six criteria, which are: joint ownership of a house, a joint lease, combined ownership of a motor vehicle, a joint bank account, joint credit accounts, or a partner named as primary beneficiary in the other's will.

They must also agree to file a notice with the city if the relationship is terminated.

The scrutiny is higher than that required for a city employee who gets married and seeks to add a spouse to his or her coverage. However, it relies almost completely on the honor system if a relationship ends. Critics note that, unlike a divorce, which creates a court record, it can be difficult to determine when health benefits should be cut off in a domestic partner situation.

The number of people signed up for the benefits could rise during the year if more people enter into relationships or if they sign up for benefits during re-enrollment periods.

Saturday, December 22, 2001

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University president says school will not offer same-sex benefit

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the president of Grand Valley State University has issued a statement saying that the university will not be extending benefits to domestic partners of its unmarried employees anytime soon.

President Mark Murray's decision, posted Friday on the university's Web site, angered and disappointed supporters of gay rights, including a campus group of homosexual employees. Murray acknowledged that "a sizable majority" of the school's students, staff and faculty favor offering the benefits. But offering the benefits "would be contrary to the views of many key constituencies who have supported this institution," he wrote in rejecting the idea.

"Many parents of current and prospective students oppose the extension of such benefits," Murray said.

"As a public university, we depend on state funding and we need vigorous legislative support to achieve equitable funding.

"As a university that has benefited from very generous support from the private philanthropic community, we must recognize the prevailing views of those who provide such support."

In fall 2000, Murray's predecessor at Grand Valley State, longtime President Arend Lubbers, decided to offer domestic-partner benefits to employees. But he backpedaled after hearing strong opposition from conservative political leaders and donors such as Amway Corp. co-founder Richard DeVos.

Jeffrey Montgomery, executive director of the Triangle Foundation, a Detroit-based advocacy group for homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals, said he believes Murray bowed to pressure from heavy hitters.

"It's like, 'This is the right thing to do, it's a good thing, everyone up here wants us to do it, this community's in favor of it. But you know what? The people that control my pursestrings, which include the Legislature and major donors, don't want me to do this, so I can't do it,"' Montgomery said.

 

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Sept. 11 compensation fund plan criticized

A story released today by the Agence France Presse reports that when the September 11 Compensation Fund began processing claims Friday, there were rumblings of discontent among victims who would not be compensated equally for the loss of a loved one in the attacks.

"Unfortunately, the regulations issued by the Department of Justice are unduly restrictive and subvert the intent of Congress, which was to fully compensate all victims of the tragedy," New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said in a statement. "The regulations are deficient in many ways, and I therefore am calling upon the Department of Justice to fix these problems before the regulations become final in 30 days."

Among the problems with the fund's disbursement plan, Spitzer said, was that it fails to provide for unmarried life partners or undocumented aliens whose spouses were killed or were themselves injured.Compounding the egregious flaws of the plan, the attorney general said, was the stipulation that even "unconscionably low" damage awards cannot be appealed.

Under the plan, unveiled Thursday by DOJ Special Master for The September 11 Compensation Fund Kenneth Feinberg, qualifying survivors are to receive payment for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering as well as an additional payment based on the age and potential lifetime earnings of the deceased.

"It is important to ensure that people have a sense of what they might receive from the program before they decide to apply," Feinberg said in a statement from the fund.

"We will also ensure that every family who lost a loved one receives, in total, at least a minimum level of compensation from all sources," he added.

Victims' disappointment, however, was hardly mitigated by what one grieving family member termed "unjust compensation." That insurance benefits and rewards from other government programs will also be deducted from their awards from the fund has also prompted a backlash among survivors.

"The reward for pain and suffering is at least 10 percent less than what somebody would get had they sought legal reparation from a normal plane crash," said Michael Cartier, whose 26-year-old brother, James, died in the devastation of the south tower. "It is nowhere near what somebody would get."

The DOJ shot back on Friday. "Mr. Feinberg has tried to develop a program that is as fair as possible considering the thousands of people impacted by the terrorist attacks of September 11, who are disparate in all kinds of areas, including economic," Justice spokesman Charles Miller said. "It is a daunting task."

Friday, December 21, 2001

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OPM excludes federal employees with domestic partners from benefits plan

A story released today by PlanetOut.com reports that the Bush administration's Office of Personnel Management decided not to grant long-term health care benefits to domestic partners of the nation's 1.8 million federal workers.

Although Congress had given the agency authority to extend the benefits, OPM director Kay Cole James reportedly decided against it on Wednesday, to the dismay of many gay rights advocates.

"This is clearly discrimination," said Maureen O'Leary, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA).  "This decision says even if LGBT people are willing to pay for the benefits, the administration still sees fit to exclude them. It makes no sense."

The GLMA also noted in a press release that the OPM's decision came one day after the American Medical Association passed a resolution to encourage private and public sector employers to offer domestic partner health benefits.

"The administration had an easy chance to right a wrong," said O'Leary.

 

 

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