GOP commissioners speak out against Dallas County’s plan to offer insurance to unmarried partners of employees; vote expected Tuesday
Dallas County’s plan to offer health benefits to the unmarried domestic partners of employees is close to becoming a reality after a months-long effort.
The Commissioners Court was briefed on the plan Tuesday, Oct. 23, and is expected to vote Tuesday, Oct. 30.
The plan is the result of the efforts of County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Elba Garcia, both Democrats.
They’d hoped to offer the benefits through the Public Employee Benefits Cooperative, a multi-county partner agency, but other members would not allow it.
Under the proposed plan, county employees would be eligible for a subsidy if they have opposite- or same-sex domestic partners who do not have insurance through other means. The subsidy would be equal to the amount the county contributes to an employee’s health insurance.
Those who enroll would have to sign a domestic partner affidavit, and provide two forms of proof that they have lived together for six months, such as a lease agreement or joint bank accounts. Other requirements mandate that partners must be at least 18 and not be married.
The official projected cost is under $100,000 per year — though based on the experiences of other government entities including Parkland hospital, the actual price tag is likely to be only a fraction of that amount.
If the Commissioners Court approves the plan, Dallas County will be the third county in Texas to offer DP benefits after Travis County and El Paso County.
Republican commissioners Mike Cantrell and Maurine Dickey both expressed opposition to the plan this week, arguing that neither Texas nor the federal government recognizes domestic partners.
Cantrell accused the plan of being “merely a political agenda that’s being pushed by those seeking favor with a certain group of voters.”
Jenkins, who along with Garcia and Commissioner John Wiley Price have said they support the plan, said offering DP benefits is anything but political.
“This is not about pulling favor. It’s not about making a constitutional challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act,”
Jenkins said. “It’s not about anything but trying to promote the very best work place that we can promote for our employees, trying to retain good employees, trying to attract good employees, and taking care of those 6,000 people who work for Dallas County. That’s all this is about.”
Dickey called the plan “a poorly thought out policy.”
“I think that we are circumventing the law by passing a policy which is contrary to the Defense of Marriage Act,” she said.
Dickey voted in favor of adding sexual orientation to the county’s nondiscrimination policy last year, but later voted against adding transgender protections.
Dickey and her husband own Dickey’s Barbecue restaurants, a franchised chain of 130 restaurants in seven states.
Garcia voiced support for the plan in order to continue the work the court began last year by making the county’s nondiscrimination policy fully inclusive.
“In my view, we’re simply catching up,” Garcia said. “We’re catching up to the times. We’re catching up to the rest of the world. And for me, offering domestic partner benefits we’ll stay competitive and we stay healthy as well in the private sector.”
Omar Narvaez was among several LGBT activists who spoke in favor of the benefits during the Commissioners Court’s meeting. Narvaez said he was approached by the county about a job a few years ago, but he turned down the offer because he couldn’t put his partner on his insurance.
He praised the court for adding trans protections to the county’s nondiscrimination policy last year, making it the only county in the state to have a fully LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policy, and encouraged commissioners to make the county the only one in the state with both an inclusive nondiscrimination policy and DP benefits.
“The two Republicans were using DOMA as an excuse for not offering domestic partner benefits,” Narvaez said, adding that several federal appeals courts have declared DOMA unconstitutional. “Many municipalities in Texas are covering domestic partners. It’s not something that’s illegal. It’s about equality and fairness. … It’s not the perfect solution, but it’s something.”
Rafael McDonnell with Resource Center Dallas provided research to commissioners about cities and counties across the country that offered DP benefits. He said he felt good about the plan, though he was disappointed in the commissioners who made it a political issue.
“Equality should be bipartisan,” he said. “I like that the commissioners are supporting equality and see that this is a case where they’re doing the right thing, not only in thoughts and words but also putting money behind it.”
For coverage of next Tuesday’s expected vote, visit DallasVoice.com/Category/Instant-Tea.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 26, 2012.