The gay and straight domestic partners of Dallas County employees will soon be eligible for a $300 monthly subsidy from the county to help pay for health insurance.
The County Commissioners Court voted 3-2 along party lines Tuesday morning to offer the subsidy to employees who have same- or opposite-sex domestic partners who do not have insurance through other means. The subsidy will be equal to the amount the county contributes to an employee’s health insurance.
County Judge Clay Jenkins, and Commissioners Dr. Elba Garcia and John Wiley Price, who comprise the court’s Democratic majority, voted in favor of offering the domestic partner subsidy. Republican Commissioners Mike Cantrell and Maurine Dickey voted against it.
Commissioners made comments before several speakers addressed the court on the issue.
Dickey said the court shouldn’t fund a special group outside of the Public Employee Benefits Cooperative because its members didn’t approve it.
Jenkins and Garcia, who spearheaded the initiative, had initially hoped to offer domestic partner benefits through the PEBC, a multi-county partner agency, but other members — including Denton and Tarrant counties — would not allow it.
Dickey said approving benefits for domestic partners would lead to funding other special groups, such as obese people, smokers or people that have blue Pontiacs.
“We must stay within the realm of our group, of our PEBC, in order to offer our employees the best possible and lowest possible health insurance,” she said.
Cantrell again brought up the legal issue of the county offering the benefits as he did last week and said he would not support it.
Garcia, Price and Jenkins all expressed support for the plan.
Speakers who then addressed the court were Rafael McDonnell with Resource Center Dallas, Lisa Thomas with Equality Texas, Hector Flores with LULAC, Roger Poindexter with Lambda Legal, LGBT activist Oliver Blumer, Derrick Spillman with DFW Pride Movement, the Rev. Jo Hudson with Cathedral of Hope and Dallas County citizen Debbie Murazo.
Blumer highlighted the importance of offering DP benefits to the county’s employees in an effort to treat all employees’ families fairly.
“It’s a simple business model that takes Dallas County into the 21st century,” he said. “It’s not about gender. It’s not about sexual orientation. It’s simply about the equality and fairness that all employees deserve equal pay for equal work.”
Murazo was the only person who spoke against the plan, saying she opposed it for economic reasons and on the grounds that the plan is illegal because it offers benefits to same-sex couples.
Murazo said the county is in “a dire economic time” and it was wrong for commissioners to raise taxes by forcing citizens to pay for health benefits for “people who are merely living together.”
“This is utterly ridiculous and a totally irresponsible decision on your part. This is a waste of taxpayer money,” she said. “As we all know, these relationships are not permanent or stable.”
Spillman appeared emotional when he began to speak, saying as an openly African-American man he has known discrimination in his life and voting against the plan would discriminate against a group of people.
“It’s very important that we as people, and as the minister said earlier, of different religions, different faiths, different backgrounds and different beliefs to come together to stand for something that means equality and fairness to all people,” he said. “I guarantee you that there is someone that you know somewhere that this will affect.”
While Spillman spoke, Dickey was noticeable fidgeting and putting her hands up in front of her face. After he finished speaking, Dickey interjected to request that a man stop taking standing up and taking pictures of her. Price told her it was a woman and that several people were taking photos (video below).
LGBT activist Cd Kirven then stood up and apologized, explaining that she was taking pictures of Spillman, not Dickey. But Dickey insisted that the camera had been pointed at her.
Those who enroll in Dallas County’s subsidy program will 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.
Under the plan, Dallas County becomes the third county in Texas to offer DP benefits after Travis County and El Paso County. The city of Dallas has offered domestic partner benefits since 2004.