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44 posts categorized "States"

December 01, 2011

Deja vu all over again: Conservatives seek signatures to repeal SB 48

California's FAIR Education Act (fair accurate inclusive respectful) will take effect in one month (on January 1), but its opponents will spend the rest of 2012 gunning for it, first seeking enough signatures to get two amendments eviscerating it onto the ballot and then trying to persuade voters to adopt them.

The letter from the Committee to Repeal SB48 to the Attorney General describes the amendment that would delete lgbt history from required coverage in public schools. A separate initiative from the Committee for Parental Rights for Education would allow parents to remove their children from lessons that conflict with their religious training and belief.

The groups failed in an earlier signature-gathering attempt that would have put repeal of SB 48 on the ballot in the state's primary election in June, and there were suspicions that conservative donors held back support because of a desire to delay the issue until the November 2012 election. Once the Attorney General certifies the questions, the anti-SB48 groups will have 150 days to gather approximately 505,000 signatures. (The number is derived from a formula geared to 5% of the number of votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election.) The best guess, given the expected review time in the AG's office, is that the deadline will be set in April of next year.

November 25, 2011

Anti-gay lobbyist tries to hide moralism with "pro-business" arguments

Earlier this year, the Tennessee state legislature Bildepassed a bill prohibiting local governments from requiring businesses which had contracts with them to agree not to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Its purpose was to torpedo a Nashville city ordinance adopted in April, which it did. The Tennessean has now published the fascinating back story behind the conservatives' campaign to kill anti-discrimination protections. The article is based on documents obtained in discovery in a lawsuit filed by proponents of the anti-discrimination law, represented by Abby Rubenfeld (photo).

It is surely a sign of the times that the successful lobbyist for the Tennessee Family Action Council used a strategy of not highlighting religious or moral objections to homosexuality when doing outreach to members of the state legislature. Instead, he painted the blockage of equal employment rights as pro-business, a gambit that paid off even though a number of businesses supported the Nashville ordinance and opposed the state law invalidating it.

Increasingly, an open and supportive environment for lgbt people is seen as going hand in glove with economic development. Not exactly a noble path to equal treatment under law, but it drives a wedge into conservative states when cities like Nashville, the Research Triangle in North Carolina, and Birmingham, Alabama start attracting knowledge industries in significant numbers.

From The Tennessean: 

The chief lobbyist for a state law that invalidated Metro protections for gay and transgendered individuals feared his moral thoughts on the measure would become public and distract from the economic argument he used to sell the bill, documents reveal.

Emails written by David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee and a former state senator, are included in thousands of pages of correspondence lawmakers submitted as part of a court battle over the constitutionality of the state law. The pending lawsuit alleges the law was motivated by prejudice rather than the economic concerns that were publicly argued.

The law dubbed the Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act nullified an ordinance the Metro Council passed in April requiring city contractors to pledge not to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The ordinance extended protections already given to employees based on age, race, sex, color, national origin and disability, and it required contractors to follow a nondiscrimination policy Metro adopted for its own employees in 2009...

“Metro Council here in Nashville is considering requiring private businesses that do business with the city and those who lease property from the city have an employment policy to protect homosexual conduct and cross-dressing, etc.,” Fowler wrote in a Jan. 26 email to individuals including state Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin. Fowler described how he hoped to persuade the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce to oppose Metro’s planned ordinance. “Metro passed its homosexual ordinance for Metro employees by 24 to 15 in 2009 so the Council is clearly liberal.

“Please do NOT pass this on to anyone who you think might in the slightest pass it to anyone else,” Fowler continued later in the email. “We’ve learned that some folks we thought were friends cannot be trusted and we don’t need the Chamber backing off because it starts to appear to be too much of a Christian, right wing, homosexual issue rather than a business/economic issue.”

Continue reading "Anti-gay lobbyist tries to hide moralism with "pro-business" arguments" »

November 22, 2011

Gay marriage ad campaign begins in Maine

A new ad campaign with nation-wide ramifications begins today in Maine, described in the San Francisco Chronicle:

...[Today] in Maine, where voters in 2009 repealed a state law that would have legalized same-sex marriage, supporters of gay nuptials will launch a new TV ad that shows what they have learned - much of it culled from research in California and led by an Oakland pollster.

Maine is being targeted because the issue probably will be on the ballot there next year. Instead of being preachy, the ads aim to empathize with the "journey" voters are taking as they try to sort out their conflicted feelings about same-sex marriage.

National gay leaders and funders will closely gauge the reaction from the target audience: the one-third of Maine voters who are comfortable with civil unions but conflicted about supporting marriage. Reaction to the new messages will have implications for how activists approach other state ballot fights.

"You bet that people are watching this nationally," said Rick Jacobs, chairman of the 750,000-member Courage Campaign in Los Angeles, whose online members contributed $250,000 in 2009 toward research into the marriage question.

Nationally, the movement is nearing a tipping point. Although polls show that most Americans support same-sex nuptials and the military has ended its "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gay and lesbian service members, the movement has failed to win a ballot initiative in nearly three dozen tries.

Winning at the ballot box in Maine could have national reverberations, analysts said, reviving fatigued donors in the gay community to support other state ballot fights, including possibly in California. But winning won't be easy. Past ad campaigns in support of same-sex marriage have been criticized as too preachy. The language used didn't connect with independent voters. In 2009, 53 percent of Maine voters supported overturning their legislature's decision to legalize same-sex marriage.

Pastor Bob Emrich, who helped lead the repeal campaign in Maine, said the new ads aren't going to persuade Mainers. There is "lingering resentment" among opponents of same-sex marriage, he said. "People here don't want to talk about it," said Emrich, who leads a 150-person congregation at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Plymouth. "They don't want to make it so personal. People here ... don't want to change what the institution of marriage means."

Still, supporters of same-sex marriage see Maine, a geographically small state with 1 million voters and a mostly white electorate, as a state they can swing. It is small enough to make direct contact with voters, which is key to changing minds on such an emotional issue...

Timed to run around Thanksgiving, when families gather around the table and in front of the television, the first 30-second ad features a close shot of an elderly Catholic couple from rural Maine who have been married 42 years, describing the journey they took to accept that one of their daughters is a lesbian. At first, Jeanette Rediker says, "there were a lot of emotions." But after they asked their priest for advice, Rediker says, "I will never forget the answer he told me: 'She is the same person you loved yesterday.' " The closing frame features the words "Love. Commitment. Marriage" over two gold wedding bands.

Continue reading "Gay marriage ad campaign begins in Maine" »

November 16, 2011

Broward County requires contractors to offer DP benefits

From Equality Florida, which was instrumental in securing this legislation in Ft. Lauderdale:

[T]he Broward County Commission voted unanimously to approve Florida's first countywide Equal Benefits Ordinance (EBO), a measure that requires the county's vendors to provide domestic partners with benefits equal to those offered to spouses of married employees. In other words, if you want to do business with Broward County, you must treat domestic partners and married employees equally... 

Broward is the first county Florida to adopt an EBO. In 2005 Miami Beach became the first city in the state to pass an EBO, and the Miami Beach policy has been praised by the city commission and the staff, while reporting no negative fiscal impact.

The ordinance places Broward County's domestic partnership policies among the strongest in the country. In recent years EBOs have been adopted as a state law in California, and in the cities of San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Olympia, Minneapolis, and Portland. The ordinance was introduced by Mayor Sue Gunzburger and was co-sponsored by all members of the commission.

The EBO applies to companies who are in contracts of $100,000 or more with the county and who have 5 or more employees. If a company does not currently provide benefits to the spouses of their employees, then they are not required to provide benefits to the domestic partners of their employees. If companies are not able to provide benefits to domestic partners, they may provide the cash equivalent to the employee and still meet the requirements of the EBO...

November 10, 2011

Same-sex marriage in Oregon: Not there yet

Basic Rights Oregon ran two state-wide TV ad campaigns, conducted an online survey, did door-to-door canvassing, and concluded that there isn't enough popular support for legalizing gay marriage to justify the risk of putting the question on the 2012 ballot. Sounds to me like a smart process produced a smart decision. Advocates in other states who are considering affirmatively  move putting marriage rights up for a popular vote are, I hope, engaging in the same kind of analysis. Better to wait and win.

From The Oregonian:

Oregonians now appear about evenly divided on a proposed ballot initiative to legalize gay marriage and to overturn the constitutional ban against same-sex marriage approved by voters in 2004, [Executive Director Jeana] Frazzini said. 

The weak economy and high rates of unemployment and home foreclosures also create a tough climate for a political campaign over a social issue, she said. 

Basic Rights members favor waiting at least until the next opportunity for an initiative ballot in 2014 before plunging into a politically difficult campaign that would cost $5 million to $10 million, she said. 

National polls last spring showed support for same-sex marriage, which has climbed for the last seven years, hit the majority milestone. An ABC News/Washington Post poll in March and a Gallup Poll in May showed 53 percent of Americans in support. A Public Policy Polling survey of Oregon voters in June, however, found that 48 percent of voters support same-sex marriage. Basic Rights members want to see more support before they go to the ballot. 

November 08, 2011

Democrat wins open seat in Iowa State Senate, shielding gay marriage

Democrat Liz Mathis emerged as the winner of a race to fill a vacant seat in the Iowa State Senate, thus preserving Democratic control of that chamber and with it, the ability to block efforts to repeal state constitutional protection for same-sex marriage. An early report in the Des Moines Register estimated her share of the vote at 56%. 

Pre-election polls had predicted this result.  From Public Policy Polling:

The special election that will determine control of the Iowa State Senate on Tuesday is close, but it looks like Democrats will probably hold serve. Democrat Liz Mathis leads Republican Cindy Golding 52-46 in our poll taken over the weekend.

The numbers suggest that Mathis is just a stronger candidate than Golding. Voters in the district are split right down the middle, 44/44, on whether they'd rather Democrats or Republicans had control of the State Senate.  But Mathis is outrunning those numbers when it comes to how people are planning to vote on Tuesday. The big key for her is that she's taking 16% of the GOP vote from Golding, while losing only 9% of the Democratic vote.  That helps her make up for a 50-45 deficit with independents.

This election has been framed to some extent as a battle over gay marriage, but our poll suggests voters aren't seeing it that way. They're planning to vote for Mathis even as 46% of them say gay marriage should be illegal, compared to just 42% who think it should be legal. Although voters in the district may oppose gay marriage, only 11% say that issue is the most important factor guiding their vote compared to 86% who say it's something else.  It's also worth noting that 66% of voters do support either gay marriage or civil unions with only 30% opposed to all legal recognition for same sex couples.

If this election's not hinging on gay marriage, then what is making the difference here? Voters may be sending a message to Governor Terry Branstad. His approval rating in the district is only 39% with 42% disapproving of him. This special election is seen in some quarters as the product of a power grab by Branstad and if Mathis wins it could be indicative of an electorate that doesn't want to enhance his power.

 

October 24, 2011

Court of Appeals will address Indiana's effort to defund Planned Parenthood

In oral arguments before the Seventh Circuit last Thursday, the Solicitor General of Indiana suggested that Planned Parenthood split itself into two entities to avoid the impact of a law cutting off Medicaid funds to the group because it provides abortions. Planned Parenthood accused the state of violating the federal Medicaid statute by singling it out based on the nature of services it offers with private funding. The Indiana law was enjoined last June, and the state appealed.

From Bloomberg:

Solicitor General Thomas Fisher said during oral arguments before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago that Indiana's new law is aimed at keeping taxpayer dollars "from indirectly subsidizing abortions." He told the appeals court that Planned Parenthood of Indiana could ensure that wouldn't happen by separating its operations into two entities. "Only by separating the two can we be sure that there's no cross-subsidy," Fisher said.

Planned Parenthood's attorney, Ken Falk of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the appeals court during the 45-minute hearing that Indiana's own Medicaid agency warned state lawmakers while they were weighing the legislation that it would violate Medicaid recipients' "freedom of choice" by targeting the abortion provider.

"The state Medicaid agency said, and I'm quoting, `Federal law permits states to define a qualified provider but requires that this definition is related to a provider's ability to perform a service -- and not what services are provided,'" Falk said...

The law, which was signed into law in May by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, made Indiana the first state to deny the organization Medicaid funds for general health services, including cancer screenings.

Planned Parenthood said the law would affect about 9,300 women who rely on Planned Parenthood for their health care. State officials have said that scores of health centers across the state would readily accept Medicaid patients and offer reproductive and sexual health services...

October 18, 2011

Gay marriage advocates may place issue on Oregon ballot

In a switch of tactics reflected in the growth in support for legalization of same-sex marriage that is shown in public opinion polls, pro-gay - rather than anti-gay - forces may put the issue before voters in Oregon next year. From the Eugene, OR Register-Guard:

...After a two-year “public education campaign” that has included three waves of network and cable television ad campaigns — one of which is just ending — a radio ad campaign on some of Oregon’s Spanish-speaking stations, and tens of thousands of direct mailers and phone calls targeted at moderate and undecided voters, Basic Rights Oregon’s board will soon make a decision on whether to put forward a ballot measure for the November 2012 election to overturn Oregon’s 2004 constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

That year, almost 57 percent of Oregon voters approved Measure 36, a constitutional amendment defining marriage “as the union of one man and one woman.”

Although six states recognize gay marriage, including New York and Iowa where the change was made this year, no state has yet adopted it through a vote of the people.

Jeana Frazzini, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, said the decision to go to the ballot will be based on a number of factors, including final polling numbers the organization collects, surveys of its supporter base, and an assessment of the anticipated political environment next November.

“Since 2009, we’ve engaged Oregonians in a discussion about the freedom to marry,” Frazzini said in a recent interview. “Whereas voters had previously only seen the two sides yelling in the middle of a political fight, we were more focused on having a calm discussion ... and we’ve seen tremendous progress.”

However, Frazzini acknowledged that “there is no real science to understanding the dynamics of an election a year out” and added that the organization will only proceed if indicators give them a good chance of success.

“It’s a question of when, not if, we move forward,” she said. “But we understand that an emotionally and financially draining defeat is not the path to victory.”

The Oregon Family Council, the organization that spearheaded efforts to pass Measure 36 in 2004, has been monitoring Basic Rights’ campaign, spokeswoman Teresa Lucas said, and the group’s leaders are hoping Basic Rights does not put forward a measure.

“We’ve seen them spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on getting their message out, without opposition,” Lucas said. “But this is a bad time for this fight: We should be focusing on the economy ... (A ballot measure) would cost millions of dollars and divide us as Oregonians.”

In 2004, supporters of Measure 36 spent nearly $2.5 million on their campaign while opponents spent almost $3 million. Both sides said they expect to spend “much more” if the issue goes to the ballot in 2012. Frazzini did not disclose how much Basic Rights Oregon has spent on its two-year education campaign.

Recent polls, nationally and in Oregon, have shown that acceptance of gay marriage is growing. Earlier this year, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that, for the first time, a slim majority of Americans, 53 percent, believe gay marriage should be legal, up from 37 percent in 2003. Two recent surveys in Oregon found support to be at 48 and 45 percent, respectively.

“The public has undeniably become more accepting of (same-sex marriage), though that’s different from being proactively supportive of it,” said Tim Hibbits, a Portland-based independent pollster...

Lucas of the Oregon Family Council said that anytime one side of a debate presents its position with no response from the other side, “it’s going to shift the numbers.”

“I don’t know if that (polling) has emboldened (supporters) and if they know that we’re still here, but we will fight them on this just as hard as we did in 2004,” she said...

Independent pollster Hibbits said the eventual legalization of same-sex marriage in Oregon seems inevitable to him, given that polls show that younger voters are far more tolerant on the issue.

“It’s a reality of politics, not my opinion, that we’re headed to that legalization in the next five to 10 years,” he said. “Gay-marriage supporters are going to win this battle in the long- to mid-term.”

Given that changing voter dynamic, Hibbitts said supporters would be ill-advised to risk a defeat at the ballot now if their polling doesn’t give them a healthy lead. “If it’s a 50-50 deal, I don’t know why you would risk defeat,” he said.

October 13, 2011

Group seeking to repeal CA FAIR Education Act falls short of necessary signatures

The Stop SB48 group came up short yesterday in submittting enough signatures to move forward with a referendum to repeal the California FAIR Act. It appears from the following SF Chronicle article that support from their fellow conservatives was underwhelming. This means that the law will go into effect on January 1 as scheduled. However, it is still possible that the issue could go on the November 2012 ballot in a different form.

Backers of an effort to repeal a law that requires schools teach about the historical contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, and people with disabilities, failed to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

The group, Stop SB48, which is named after the law, faced a Wednesday deadline to turn in just under 505,000 signatures. In an e-mail, the group said, "We thank all of you that worked so hard to provide the hundreds of thousands of signatures received. In the end, 90 days was too short a time to accomplish such a large task."

The nearly all-volunteer effort faced not only a short time frame, but a lack of significant contributions from national socially conservative organizations. The backers of the referendum noted that point in their e-mail.

"They said we did not have enough money, the commitment of enough groups, or enough days. Ultimately they were right. And in private perhaps they will ask if the effort they withheld would have made the critical difference," the e-mail stated.

Still the group vowed, "There will be a next battle." Gay rights organizations believe it is likely that efforts to fight the law will continue in the form of a ballot initiative for the November 2012 election that will attract big pocket donors.

The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, requires that public schools include the historical contributions of LGBT people and people with disabilities in social science instructions. Textbooks also will have to include that information.

July 26, 2011

Wave of states pass laws eviscerating abortion right

According to the Guttmacher Institute, there 2011-07-13-guttmacher-abortion-restrictions
is a massive, little noticed campaign in state legislatures to enact new restrictions on access to abortion services. So far in 2011, states have enacted more than 80 new laws designed to restrict access to abortion services. That number represents more than a doubling of the previous record of 34 abortion restrictions enacted in 2005—and more than triple the 23 enacted in 2010. 

From the report:

Counseling and waiting periods. Five states (IN, KS, ND, SD and TX) adopted laws related to abortion counseling and waiting periods in 2011, but a measure adopted by South Dakota at the end of March went significantly farther than those approved in other states. The law expands the pre-abortion waiting period to 72 hours, requires the woman to visit a crisis pregnancy center in the interim and mandates that abortion counseling be provided in-person by the physician who will perform the procedure. The counseling must include information on all known risk factors related to abortion, even when the information is not supported by mainstream medical opinion and is methodologically unsound...

[Judges have blocked enforcement of the laws in North and South Dakota.]  

Gestational bans. Legislators in 15 states introduced measures based on a law adopted in Nebraska last year. The provision bans abortions at and after 20 weeks’ gestation, based on the spurious assumption that a fetus can feel pain at that point. Under the measure, abortions may be performed after 20 weeks only if the woman’s life is endangered or if there is a risk of “substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.” Similar measures have been adopted in [six] states (AL, ID, IN, KS, OH and OK; see State Policies on Later Term Abortion). These laws appear to conflict with Supreme Court rulings barring states from placing an undue burden on women seeking an abortion prior to viability, a point that occurs well past 20 weeks...

Banning abortion coverage in new insurance exchanges. With plans for the implementation of health care reform underway in most states, the issue of insurance coverage for abortion was considered in 24 states, and restrictions were enacted in eight. In four states (KS, NE, OK and UT), the new laws restrict abortion coverage under all private health insurance plans. These restrictions will apply to coverage that will be available through the health exchanges being set up, as will new measures enacted in four other states (FL, ID, IN and VA). Including these new laws, eight states now restrict abortion coverage that is offered in any private health plan (including coverage through an exchange), and six others have restrictions that apply only to coverage through health exchanges (see Restricting Insurance Coverage of Abortion).

July 06, 2011

Connecticut becomes 15th state to prohibit anti-trans discrimination

Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy signed legislation today amending the state's anti-discrimination law to include "gender identity or expression" as a prohibited basis for discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, education and other fields. Earlier in the month, a number of trans-phobic amendments were defeated in the state senate, leaving the original bill intact. The amended statute is here.

The Connecticut law takes effect October 1.

The 14 other states with similar bans are California, Colorado, D.C., Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

July 04, 2011

The big hole in the Rhode Island civil unions law

Time will tell whether the new Rhode Island civil unions law was worth it. Its structure is much like that of other state civil union laws, with one major exception: it contains a dangerously broad exemption for institutions and individuals to refuse on religious grounds to recognize the validity of a couple's legal relationship. 

The key text (emphasis added):

15-3.1-5. Conscience and religious organizations protected. – (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, no religious or denominational organization, organization operated for charitable or educational purpose which is supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization, and no individual employed by any of the foregoing organizations, while acting in the scope of that employment, shall be required:

(1) To provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for a  purpose related to the solemnization, certification, or celebration of any civil union; or (2) To solemnize or certify any civil union; or (3) To treat as valid any civil union; if such providing, solemnizing, certifying, or treating as valid would cause such organizations or individuals to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

Other state laws, like New York's new marriage statute, provide an opt-out on religious grounds from events related to the solemnization or celebration of a same-sex relationship. In Rhode Island, religiously-affiliated organizations and their employees are exempt from recognizing that the couple has any legal status.  This could affect medical care, social services, employment and a range of other transactions. (Religiously-affiliated hospitals, however, will still be bound by the new HHS rules for hospitals receiving Medicare that concern issues such as partner visitation.)

If this exemption is still in place in three years or so, I hope someone does a study of whether and how religious entities in the state utilized it and what the impact would be if this language were to be more widely adopted, as I'm sure its proponents will seek.

January 10, 2011

Drive begins to enact gay marriage law in Maryland

The 2011 session of the Maryland legislature starts Wednesday, and it may well lead to another state's legalization of same-sex marriage before adjournment three months later, on April 11. The game changer, according to the Washington Post, is that a majority of members of the Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee have publicly committed to voting for a same-sex marriage bill.

The Republican minority in the State Senate is likely to filibuster a marriage bill, but the Senate president (a conservative Dem who opposes it) has said he would bring the bill to a floor vote. Advocates believe that they have enough votes in the House of Delegates to pass a marriage equality bill, and Governor Martin O'Malley has said he will sign it.

But - and this is a big but - Maryland law allows residents to petition for a ballot question as to recently passed laws. A successful signature drive would put a new marriage law on hold, pending the results of a statewide referendum in November 2012.

January 05, 2011

New Mexico AG says state courts should recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages

New Mexico Attorney General Gary King has issued a formal opinion indicating that courts in that state, which has no prohibition of same-sex marriages but also has not adopted equal marriage laws, should recognize the marriages of gay couples that were performed in states that have authorized them. An AG Opinion is not binding on courts, but is often persuasive.

Most significantly, the opinion states that such marriages should be recognized not only for couples who marry legally in another state and later move to NM, but also for NM residents who travel out of state in order to secure a marriage that is not available locally. This latter practice - known as evasive marriages - is often less favored under conflicts law. However, the AGO notes that NM law supports non-recognition only of marriages that conflict with "an overriding public policy." In light of precedents establishing that neither the state's law against incestuous marriages nor the law against common law marriages was sufficient to dislodge the presumption that marriages would be recognized if they were legal where performed, the AGO concludes that same-sex marriages also should be recognized.

King's AGO replaces one coming to the opposite conclusion issued in 2004 by a previous AG.

UPDATE - Nancy Polikoff notes that King's position is opposed by the state's new governor. If the issue becomes a flash point in state politics, conservatives may press the state legislature to consider "junior DoMA" legislation that would establish formal state policy against recognition. Democrats are the majority party in both chambers of the New Mexico legislature, but I don't know how the votes would come out on a DoMA-style bill.

December 14, 2010

New partner benefits plan for Michigan state employees in limbo

[Based on reporting in The Michigan Messenger and the Lansing State Journal:]

The Michigan Civil Service Commission has tabled its consideration of a proposal to extend health insurance benefits to unmarried, live-in partners of all state employees regardless of sexual orientation or relationship. The plan is supported by outgoing Governor Jennifer Granholm, but is unlikely to gain the backing of Republican Governor-elect Rick Snyder, who takes office Jan. 1.

Under the proposed policy, negotiated by the Office of the State Employer (OSE) and unions representing state employees, health insurance coverage would be available to all non-related people over 18 who have shared a residence with a state employee for at least 12 months, covering both same-sex and opposite-sex partnerships. The children and dependents of those newly eligible would also be extended coverage under the same conditions as any other person eligible for coverage.

Republican members of the state legislature say the plan will cost too much at a time of budget austerity. The governor’s office says the annual cost for the program could be as much as $5.7 million, but the CSC was told this morning the cost could be as low $2.2 million.

Neither figure considers the tax revenue which results from the plan. The IRS has determined that benefits provided under domestic partner like programs are considered taxable income. As a result, the Human Rights Campaign reports that in 2007, people with partner benefits pay an additional $1,069 in federal taxes. The Michigan Department of Treasury was unaware of what amount of income tax in the state is generated by current domestic partner programs — such as those offered by state universities and private employers.

The issue stems from a 2006 contract agreement between state unions and the Granholm administration. Those approved contracts included the option to extend partner benefits for state employees.  A lawsuit challenging domestic partner benefits was based on the broad text of the state constitutional amendment adopted in 2004, which barred recognition not only of same-sex marriage but also of "any other similar union." The Michigan Supreme Court ruled in National Pride at Work v. Michigan, 481 Mich. 56, 748 N.W.2d 524 (2008), that the language prohibited partner benefits for gay couples.

Since then, state officials and employee unions have redrafted the agreement to eliminate specific references to same-sex domestic partners. Universities and other public employers developed Other Eligible Individual (OEI) programs that allow employees to designate an OEI, if that person satisfies criteria such as sharing a residence.