Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Party of No Ideas Strikes Yet Again!

(H/T Arizona Daily Star, June 4 edition)

Arizona lawmakers move to end domestic partner benefits

PHOENIX — State lawmakers are moving to strip the domestic partners of state and university employees of the health insurance coverage they gained just a year ago.

A provision in the state budget would legally define "dependents" of state employees who are entitled to coverage as a spouse or a child younger than 19 — or younger than 23 if a full-time student. Changing the law would override regulations adopted last year that added domestic partners and their children to the list.

The state Department of Administration says about 750 workers who have signed up for the benefits would be affected.

Senate Majority Whip Pamela Gorman, R-Anthem, said the question of who gets what benefits should be decided by state lawmakers. She said it was wrong of then-Gov. Janet Napolitano to make the change administratively.

Senate President Bob Burns, R-Peoria, said legislative oversight is particularly important this year, with the state running a deficit, and given there is a cost involved. Department of Administration spokesman Alan Ecker said domestic partner coverage costs the state about $3 million a year on top of the $625 million Arizona spent on health insurance for other employees.

It remains to be seen whether Gov. Jan Brewer, who already has registered objections to some parts of the budget, will support the change.

Gubernatorial press aide Paul Senseman said Brewer and her staff are "evaluating" everything in the budget. He said that includes changes in state policies.

Brewer, in a questionnaire she filled out in 2006 for the Center for Arizona Policy, said she opposes the government granting unmarried domestic partners the same employee and health benefits as married couples. The center, which helped push through an initiative last year to constitutionally ban gay marriage in Arizona, tried to block the coverage when Napolitano pushed it through.

At the time, Napolitano's director of administration, Bill Bell, said the cost was outweighed by what the state and universities will save in attracting and retaining qualified employees. University of Arizona President Robert Shelton presented similar arguments in favor of the change.

UA spokesman Johnny Cruz said late Wednesday the school continues to believe that is true.

Gorman, however, said she's not convinced. "I think there's a lot of variables and a lot of talented people in Arizona," she said. "I haven't heard from any of those people saying they only work for Arizona for that reason."
Barbara McCullough-Jones who represents Equality Arizona, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy group, said the issue goes beyond employee recruitment and retention.

"This particular benefit is critical because it is doing exactly what society asks us to do, and that's to take care and be responsible for our families," she said. And McCullough-Jones said the state could end up paying anyway because domestic partners and their children could end up with free coverage from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

She said her organization is "studying options" of what to do if the change becomes law, including possibly asking voters to override the legislation.

The rule lawmakers are seeking to scrap does not allow any state or university worker to declare any person to be a domestic partner and eligible for coverage.

It specifically limits benefits to someone living with the employee for at least a year and expected to continue living with that person. There is no reference to the gender of the partner.

It also requires an indication of financial interdependence and an affidavit by the employee that there is a domestic partnership.

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