Senate committee backs same-sex partner benefits

Posted on 16 Feb 2009 at 11:09am
By Colleen Slevin Associated Press

Christian Family Alliance accuses gay lawmakers who introduced the bill of having a conflict of interest

DENVER — A measure granting health and dental benefits to same-sex partners of state employees is headed for a debate in the full Senate after winning committee approval on Friday, Feb. 14.

State analysts estimate that 79 people, including children, would be added to state health plans under the bill at a cost of about $116,000 a year.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 7-3 to back the measure.

The Christian Family Alliance of Colorado, a socially conservative group that advocates on political issues, accused two gay lawmakers who are sponsoring the measure of having a conflict of interest, since they could benefit.

Sen. Jennifer Veiga brought up the allegation before the committee took its vote. She denied it, saying she doesn’t use the state policy and her partner has her own insurance.

Rep. Mark Ferrandino said he is covered by the state policy but his partner also has his own coverage.

Ferrandino said lawmakers have a conflict only if they vote to treat themselves differently than anyone else affected by the laws they pass.

Mark Hotaling, executive director of the group, maintains told The Associated Press Friday he thinks Veiga still has a conflict even if her partner wouldn’t use state benefits because she could change her mind later.

"That’s a direct economic benefit," he said.

The alliance made the conflict-of-interest allegations in an e-mail to the political blog coloradopols.com. The e-mail also accused Veiga and Ferrandino of trying to repay software entrepreneur Tim Gill, whose Denver-based foundation has given millions to gay-rights causes.

Veiga denied that she was working with Gill to pass the bill. She said she has only met him once or twice.

"Quite frankly, I’m not sure if he could pick me out a crowded room," she said.

Ferrandino said he considers Gill a friend but said he hasn’t consulted with him about the bill.

Veiga said the bill is needed because of a discrepancy in state policies that could open the door to a lawsuit. She said some employees of some state universities qualify for partner benefits, while other state employees don’t.

Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, said a broader policy allowing state employees to add any one person to their health plan wouldn’t contradict voters’ wishes.

Veiga said that would open coverage up to more people and a much higher cost when the state is facing steep budget cuts.

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