Arizona lawmakers target partner benefits

Posted on 05 Jun 2009 at 11:00am
By Jonathan J. Cooper Associated Press

Lesbian lawmaker Sinema calls move ‘especially nefarious’

PHOENIX — Arizona state workers who just won health benefits for their domestic partners will lose them under a proposed budget lawmakers are considering.

The move would reverse a decision made last year by Democratic former Gov. Janet Napolitano’s administration. Critics at the time blasted the decision as a breach of power that would undermine the tradition of marriage.

The change is part of a budget proposed by Republican legislative leaders that would eliminate benefits as of Oct. 1, a year after they went into effect.

Cathi Herrod, president of the socially conservative advocacy group Center for Arizona Policy, praised the legislative move, saying Napolitano’s administration should never have created the benefits.

"The issue of domestic partner benefits should be decided by the legislative branch through legislative hearings," Herrod said.

Napolitano created the benefits through a policy change at the Department of Administration. It was approved by the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council, an obscure board that reviews policy changes at state agencies.

The elimination of domestic partner benefits would affect about 750 state workers now receiving them, saving about $3 million of the state’s $650 million employee health care budget.

Critics slammed the move, saying it would leave people without health care coverage and make it harder for the state to recruit and retain quality workers.

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, said the change would take health care away from people who work hard to earn it.

"To discriminately deny that health care to some while providing it to others I think is especially nefarious," she said.

Many state workers will probably look for jobs in local government or the private sector if lawmakers eliminate their domestic partner benefits.

Sen. Ken Cheuvront, D-Phoenix, said supporters of the change were "mean-spirited" to take away health benefits during an economic downturn.

"After their success in putting a constitutional ban on gay marriage, they weren’t satisfied," he said. "They wanted to go further and deny benefits to same sex and opposite sex couples who for whatever reason do not get married."

Department of Administration spokesman Alan Ecker said it’s impossible to know how many domestic partner benefits are going to same-sex couples because the state doesn’t track that information.

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