UPDATE: DART board won’t take up domestic partner benefits until August

Dallas GetEQUAL TX activists chant for DART to add domestic partner benefits during a board meeting April 9. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Dallas GetEQUAL TX activists chant for DART to add domestic partner benefits during a board meeting April 9. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

UPDATE: DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said the domestic partner benefits plan won’t go before the board until late August. The plan will now go before the administrative committee on Aug. 27, which he said will give the board time to be briefed on the impact the U.S. Supreme Court rulings will have on DART. The committee was expected to discuss the plan Aug. 13, but Chairman Jerry Christian will be absent that meeting and requested it be pushed to the next meeting.

The committee won’t meet in July because there is only one board meeting scheduled for Tuesday. If the committee approves the plan, it will go before the committee-of-the-whole at its two meetings in September before the full board votes on the plan.

ORIGINAL POST: After almost a year since a former DART employee began petition agency officials to consider domestic partner benefits, the agency will take up the item for discussion again on Tuesday.

DART’s Board of Directors postponed a decision on offering the benefits in March until its July meeting to wait and see how the Supreme Court ruled in the two same-sex marriages cases last week. The agency’s administrative committee already approved a plan to offer opposite- and same-sex partners benefits, so the full board will consider the plan again at its committee-of-the-whole meeting Tuesday.

DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said the plan will go before the board for initial consideration. It will have to be discussed a second time before a vote can be taken and the board can make a final decision.

“We’ll be coming back with the same material we had presented before and so it will be for the board to decide what next steps to take,” Lyons said.

LGBT advocates addressed the board at its six meetings since the decision to postpone, many who had sat through meetings when the issue had been discussed. Advocates reminded them that the issue was about family and fairness for employees.

—  Dallasvoice

LGBT advocates to DART board: ‘You all should be ashamed’

Omar Narvaez addresses the DART Board of Directors  on April 24. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Omar Narvaez addresses the DART Board of Directors on April 24. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

A small crowd turned out Tuesday to protest DART’s delay in offering domestic partner benefits, but the two speakers were passionate enough to get the LGBT community’s outrage across.

DART’s Board of Directors began receiving information about benefits last July and finally decided to table discussion in March until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules in two marriage equality cases in July. LGBT advocates spoke at the board meeting earlier this month and vowed to be back until the board implements the benefits.

Omar Narvaez spoke on behalf of Lambda Legal, listing the agencies that already offer DP benefits and explaining how the agency has failed employees by postponing a vote for months before hiding behind a U.S. Supreme Court decision. He added that there was no legal risk in Texas because “too many other governmental agencies already get it and have for decades.”

“Marriage equality? What does that have to do with domestic partner benefits? They are employee benefits. Nothing more,” he said. “You are not defining relationship status by offering domestic partner benefits.

“You all should be ashamed that DFW Airport and Parkland get it and got it faster than you all are able to get it. It is time to bring this up, make it happen, we’re talking about paper clip money when it comes to the budget. When it comes to the employees of this organization, you are spitting in their faces.”

—  Dallasvoice

LGBT advocates rally in red at DART board meeting to demand DP benefits

Dallas GetEQUAL TX activists chant for DART to add domestic partner benefits during a board meeting April 9. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Dallas GetEQUAL TX activists chant for DART to add domestic partner benefits during a board meeting April 9. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

About two dozen LGBT advocates attended DART’s board meeting Tuesday night, most wearing red to support equal benefits for the transit agency’s gay and lesbian employees.

Four people addressed the board during public comments to call members out on their inaction and delay on offering domestic partner health benefits after discussion began last July. The board voted two weeks ago to delay any action until this July after the U.S. Supreme Court decides two marriage equality cases.

Lesbian GetEQUAL TX activist Cd Kirven spoke about her shock in the board’s comments at several committee meetings and board meetings when DP benefits were discussed.

“I sat quietly at almost every DART committee meeting and board meeting I attended around domestic partner benefits,” she said. “I’ve heard Bible verses and I’ve heard one of your members say this is not about doing the right thing.”

Kirven reminded the board that it is “cruel to define a family” instead of recognizing the diverse families that DART employees belong to.

“Using your power and ability to discriminate against a group of people is more about judgment and economic injustice than it is about budget cost and restraints,” Kirven said.

DART employee Epitacio Camacho spoke about his eight years working for DART, during which he learned to value diversity in his co-workers and those who use DART’s services.

He said he values his family and wishes his LGBT co-workers could add their families to their insurance like he had done with his family.

“They all work hard. They all wear the same uniform I do and they all want equality in the workplace,” he said.

—  Dallasvoice

BREAKING: DART committee approves DP benefits plan

Michael Muhammad, DART’s vice president of diversity and innovative services, presents three DP benefits plans for DART employees at an administrative committee meeting on Tuesday. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Members of DART’s administrative committee approved a plan today to offer domestic partner benefits to the regional transit agency’s gay and lesbian employees.

The committee discussed three plans but approved one in a 5-2 vote that would offer healthcare to an employee’s same- or opposite-sex partner and their children. According to previously released documents, the plan could cost anywhere from $76,860 $929,758, depending on how many people enroll.

The plan is now set to go before the entire DART Board of Directors on Feb. 26.

Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell and lesbian activist Cd Kirven attended the meeting and were glad the committee approved the plan.

“I’m happy that we’re seeing forward movement,” McDonnell said.

They stressed the importance of the LGBT community reaching out to DART board members so they understand the need to vote in favor of the change.

“We need their help,” Kirven said. “I’m excited.”

Michael Muhammad, DART’s vice president of diversity and innovative services, explained the three proposed plans to committee members, including one that would allow both a partner and another dependent to be covered. Muhammad said that would guard against any legal challenges and would require an employee to have a guardianship for the relative to be eligible for DP benefits. But that plan was the most expensive at $355,236 $1,625,697.

After 20 minutes in executive session, committee vice chair Claude Williams made a motion to vote on the most expensive plan, which would cover partners and another dependent. But the motion failed to get a second.

It seemed that the committee would hold off on a vote until next month, but then committee member Pamela Dunlop Gates made a motion to vote on the plan that would cover either a same- or opposite-sex partner, which received a motion and ultimately passed by two votes.

Gates, Williams, Jerry Christian, William Tsao and Richard Carrizale voted in favor of the plan. Randall Chrisman and Gary Slagel voted against it.

To be eligible, employees would have to have lived together for at least one year and sign a domestic partnership affidavit. They would also have to provide two other documents proving their shared residency.

If approved by the full board, the plan would take effect in January 2014.

Contact info for board members is available here.

—  Dallasvoice

Domestic partner benefits appear stalled on the tracks at DART

LGBT advocates are encouraging people to contact DART board members after a scheduled discussion of domestic partner benefits was delayed for at least the third time in five months.

A DP benefits plan was expected to be presented to DART’s administrative committee Tuesday, Jan. 8, but spokesman Morgan Lyons said the committee will hear the plan in February because consultants are still working on the financial impact.

The cost of the benefits has been estimated at $105,000 to $210,000, but committee members want to see projected numbers if the plan is expanded to include relatives who live together, in an effort to prevent legal challenges. No other DP benefits plan in Texas allows blood relatives to qualify.

Claude Williams, DART board member and vice chair of the administrative committee, said he’s disappointed the plan isn’t moving forward faster. Williams said his concern is that consultants will come back with high numbers for coverage if any two people who live together qualify for the benefits, and the board will ultimately decide not to offer the benefits because of cost.

“We’ll have to wait on the numbers,” he said. “My push would be since doing this is to prevent legal challenges, whatever the difference in cost is, that’s just your cost of protecting yourself legally,” he said.

—  Dallasvoice

DART’s proposal to offer DP benefits remains stalled in committee

Michael Muhammad, DART’s interim vice president of diversity, presents a potential DP benefits plan for DART employees at an administrative committee meeting on Tuesday. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

A DART committee is taking its time in studying a proposal to offer domestic partner benefits to the transit agency’s employees.

Members of DART’s administrative committee requested several sample plans complete with costs and definitions Tuesday.

After delaying a briefing on domestic partner benefits last month due to time, Michael Muhammad, DART’s interim vice president of diversity, recapped his previous presentation about other Texas governmental entities that offer the benefits, as well as Texas law that prohibits the recognition of anything identical or similar to marriage.

He said DART’s plan would include proving that applicants are in a committed relationship and share household responsibilities, and are 18 or older and unmarried. He suggested making the benefits open to blood relatives, which all other Texas plans prohibit.

Muhammad brought up Attorney General Greg Abbott’s expected opinion on DP benefits, which was requested by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, in early November. He also said the city of El Paso’s benefits have been “legally challenged” and said it was ongoing. El Paso City Council approved the benefits in 2009 and again in 2011 after a repeal effort led by anti-gay Pastor Tom Brown overturned the council’s decision. Brown appealed the case to the Texas Supreme Court in March, but it’s unlikely the court will hear the case. Meanwhile, city employees have DP benefits.

He said the requirements for domestic partners could be as broad or as narrow as the committee wanted, suggesting that the broader the requirements are, the less likely they are to be legally challenged.

—  Dallasvoice

DART panel delays DP benefits briefing

A proposal for Dallas Area Rapid Transit to offer domestic partner benefits was tabled today and will be discussed in December instead.

DART’s administrative committee was slated to hear the plan Tuesday, but time ran out before members could be briefed.

DART board member Claude Williams, the committee’s vice chair who requested a presentation on DP benefits in October, said he’ll make sure it’s a priority to hear the plan when the committee meets again on Dec. 11.

DART currently allows only spouses recognized by Texas law to be covered under employees’ health insurance. The proposal would broaden the scope of eligibility to not limit it to just spouses.

Based on the prepared presentation for Tuesday’s meeting, DART’s potential plan would follow the plans of other agencies in Texas that offer DP benefits by mandating a shared household for a minimum time period, as well as requiring domestic partners to be at least 18.

The expected cost is listed as ranging from $105,000 to $210,000 annually.

Last week, Dallas County voted to offer insurance vouchers to the domestic partners of employees. Then, on Friday, state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, requested an opinion from the Texas attorney general’s office about whether domestic partner benefits are legal under Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Read the proposal for DART to offer DP benefits below.

—  Dallasvoice

DART committee requests more info, formal proposal on DP benefits

Michael Muhammad, DART’s interim vice president of diversity, briefs DART’s administrative committee on domestic partner benefits on Tuesday. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

After being briefed on domestic partner benefits Tuesday afternoon, Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s administrative committee requested more information and a formal proposal.

Michael Muhammad, DART’s interim vice president of diversity, presented the presentation, listing the government agencies in Texas that offer DP benefits, as well as a handful of transit agencies in the U.S. that offer them.

Muhammad noted Texas law prohibiting the recognition of anything identical or similar to marriage and said DART’s current benefits policy requires that only a spouse under Texas’ definition can be covered.

He then mentioned that entities that offer DP benefits do so by not limiting the qualifications to only spouses. Cost of offering the benefits for DART was estimated by a consultant at $105,000 to $210,000, but would ultimately be minimal, Muhammad said.

Muhammad gave a less-than-enthusiastic presentation and his demeanor came across as bored while he read from the projected slides.

—  Dallasvoice

DART tables DP benefits until October

The Dallas Area Rapid Transit administrative committee was slated to hear an employee presentation on offering domestic partner benefits on Sept. 11, but will now discuss the issue in October.

After members of the LGBT community addressed the DART Board of Directors Aug. 14, it was revealed that the committee had requested a presentation on offering the benefits.

Spokesman Morgan Lyons told Dallas Voice this week that the committee requested more information about the benefits, such as projected cost, and will not discuss the issue until its next meeting on Oct. 9.

DART’s Board of Directors will approve the budget on Sept. 25, but Lyons said not including DP benefits in the budget, which would need to be voted on by the administrative committee and the board, does not mean that the cost could not be added later if a vote approves adding the benefits.

The issue of the benefits came up earlier this summer when former DART police officer Andrew Moss started a Change.org petition to persuade DART to provide the benefits. He is unable to work because of health reasons and his COBRA will expire in December, but his partner still works at DART and could add Moss to his plan. The petition has garnered more than 1,170 signatures.

Equality Texas is also advocating for the change. Go here to submit your opinion through their online form.

—  Dallasvoice

DART committee to discuss DP benefits

Mark “Major” Jiminez addresses the DART Board of Directors about the importance of offering domestic partner benefits Tuesday, Aug. 14. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

A Dallas Area Rapid Transit committee is scheduled to discuss offering domestic partner benefits at its September meeting.

DART Executive Director Gary Thomas told Instant Tea on Tuesday that board member Claude Williams has requested a presentation by staff on DP benefits at the administrative committee’s next meeting. Williams, who couldn’t immediately be reached, serves as vice chair of the administrative committee.

Several members of the LGBT community addressed the DART board Tuesday night to explain the importance of offering DP benefits.

Omar Narvaez, who works for Lambda Legal, told the DART board he lost his job a few years ago after working for a company for 14 years. He said he was lucky that his partner’s company offered DP benefits.

When he went to work for Lambda Legal a year later, Narvaez said his partner then lost his job, so Narvaez was able to put his partner on his insurance plan.

“We need to add these benefits because happy employees and employees that feel safe are employees that love working here,” Narvaez said.

Mark “Major” Jiminez spoke about how he admired DART as an agency but doesn’t support the agency’s discriminatory policies. Jiminez and his partner Beau Chandler will marry in September and have been arrested trying to obtain a marriage license in Dallas County.

Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell then spoke and referenced DART’s equal employment opportunity policy, which he also distributed to board members. McDonnell said the policy is contradictory because it says the transit agency doesn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation, including in the area of benefits.

McDonnell said the efforts of former DART employee Andrew Moss, who could not attend Tuesday’s meeting, have been heard loud and clear with the issue now being addressed by the administrative committee. Moss’ Change.org petition calling for DART to add DP benefits has garnered 1,159 signatures.

“I think it certainly shows that our petitions, our calls and letters were heard,” McDonnell said, adding that he is optimistic about the DP benefits issue moving forward. “I feel pretty good about it getting through the administrative committee. I still think we have some work to do with educating board members, though.”

Dallas attorney Scott Carlson was appointed DART’s new general counsel by the board on Tuesday. Carlson is a former board member who voted against adding transgender nondiscrimination protections in 2010.

—  Dallasvoice