Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Arizona Extends Domestic Partner Benefits to State Employees

PHOENIX (Observer Update) - On Tuesday, April 1 the Arizona Governor's Regulatory Review Council (GRRC) approve a rule granting domestic partner benefits to state employees, present and retired.

This proposal was introduced on November 15, 2007 by the Arizona Department of Administration (ADOA), received widespread support from community members and several organizations.

More than 1,700 responses were submitted by the public to the GRRC on this measure.

Arguments against the proposed expansion, stated that it will encourage what one called an “aberrant” lifestyle and that the Governor’s office had not properly considered all the indirect costs to society of the state recognizing unmarried couples, including increased domestic violence.

Bill Bell, Napolitano’s director of the Department of Administration, said that the cost to taxpayers, perhaps $4.5 million a year, is outweighed by what the state and universities will save in attracting and retaining qualified employees.

By a unanimous vote, 4-0 , the GRRC approved the rule change.

Equality Arizona Executive Director Barbara McCullough-Jones said that "Today's ruling was a defining moment for Arizona. It is because of positive change in social norms, forward thinking lawmakers and progressive companies that we are celebrating a rule change that will have dramatic, positive impact on Arizona's families.”

Two hurdles could possibly derail the proposed domestic partner benefits expansion, either by the Arizona Legislature or a legal challenge.

Earlier this month Republican state Senator Pamela Gorman introduced SB 1499 which would have created a legal definition to exclude domestic partners and their children from the definition of "dependent" for the purposes of state employee and retirement benefits. SB 1499 failed by a vote of 16-14. If Gorman’s bill comes back in another form, there are not enough votes to override a potential veto of the measure.

In a news article, Peter Gentala of the Center for Arizona Policy said the group is considering filing a lawsuit to overturn the GRRC decision.

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