DART passes partner health benefits

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Members of the LGBT community gathered outside the DART board room after passage of the plus-one plan

After debating the issue for more than a year, DART passed what it called its Healthcare Equalization plan that gives its employees domestic partner benefits this evening. The vote was 10-3. Michael Cheney and Randall Chrisman, who walked out of the board to break quorum two weeks ago, voted against the plan along with Mark Enoch.

The so-called plus-one plan allows any DART employee to put another adult in the household on the DART healthcare plan.

A number of speakers addressed the DART board at the end of the meeting. Rather than asking for their votes as they have for more than a year, speakers thanked the members for voting for the plan.

More on DART in Friday’s Dallas Voice.

—  David Taffet

LGBT residents address Garland City Council on DART, nondiscrimination

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Garland Mayor Douglas Athas, left, Lerone Landis, Patti Fink and Rafael McDonnell

Following the walkout by Garland DART board representative Michael Cheney on Sept. 24 before a vote on healthcare benefits for same-sex partners at the transit agency, LGBT Garland residents and other area activists attended a Garland City Council meeting Wednesday night.

Two Garland residents and Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance President Patti Fink addressed the council. After the meeting concluded, Mayor Douglas Athas and two councilmen spoke to the group in the council chambers.

Lerone Landis told the council he lives in Garland with his husband and their 4-year-old daughter. He said he was a daily DART rider and was disappointed to learn that it was Garland’s representative who prevented the healthcare equalization plan to pass.

To show its commitment to diversity, he urged the Garland City Council to pass a nondiscrimination policy for its own employees and for city residents.

Carmarion Anderson said she was embarrassed to be a Garland resident after Cheney’s stunt at the DART meeting.

“We live here and pay our taxes here,” she said.

She said she expected equal treatment for herself and for DART’s LGBT employees.

Fink called Cheney’s action at the DART meeting “shameful.” She encouraged the council to pass an ordinance that would cover city employees.

“Be on the cutting edge and bring new business to the city,” Fink said.

The practice at the council is to not address speakers directly as they make their allotted three-minute presentations. However, the three statements were made at the end of the meeting and the mayor came to introduce himself and talk to the group afterward.

Resource Center spokesman Rafael McDonnell, who was also at the meeting, spoke to the mayor earlier in the day about the issues.

He said he believed the opposition to the DART healthcare plan among Garland officials is not rooted in homophobia but in the city’s fiscal conservatism. Athas agreed it was unfair for DART to be covering unmarried heterosexual partners and not same-sex partners.

“The council was certainly aware of Mr. Cheney’s actions,” McDonnell said.

Athas told Dallas Voice last week that he spoke to Cheney and was opposed to the DART plan. Athas’ opposition to the plus-one plan is that it’s open to abuse because the plan could cover nieces, nephews or anyone else and the agency had no way to monitor it.

But Athas said Wednesday night that the city would consider the idea of a nondiscrimination ordinance.

“We have a lot of lesbian and gay employees,” he said. “We would never allow that sort of discrimination.”

He said he had never heard a request from any of the city’s lesbian and gay community for a nondiscrimination ordinance. But he called the ordinance “nothing to rush into because no one’s come forward” with a complaint.

Fink told the mayor that most Fortune 500 companies have a nondiscrimination policy and look to relocate in cities that have similar policies. She said that the city may not have received any complaints, but  many people looking for work may have skipped applying in Garland because they have no protections.

McDonnell said he received an email from Athas Thursday morning, telling him the next step is to have Human Resources look over Garland’s nondiscrimination policies.

The mayor called the city extremely fiscally conservative. McDonnell said an ordinance is a good way for a city to avoid a discrimination lawsuit.

—  David Taffet

UPDATE: DART delays vote on DP benefits until October

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UPDATE: Two board members — Cheney and Chrisman — walked out of the DART board meeting tonight before a scheduled vote on a domestic partner healthcare equalization plan, breaking quorum.

One of the board members was coaxed back into the meeting to vote on other agenda items and pass the annual DART budget that includes the expected cost of the added healthcare benefits.

But he walked again as the item came up at the end of the meeting. It was tabled until the next meeting. If it passes at that time, it may delay benefits for another year because the signup period begins Oct. 1.

ORIGINAL POST: The DART committee-of-the-whole passed its version of domestic partner benefits on a voice vote of 9–2 this afternoon. The entire DART board, made up of the same members, must vote on it again tonight for final passage.

DART has been discussing DP benefits since July 2012.

Resource Center spokesman Rafael McDonnell attended the meeting — the 19th DART meeting he’s attended at which the issue was discussed.

“I’m pleased we’re finally at this point,” he said. “A part of me never thought we’d get here.”

He noted he’s spent more time on DART DP benefits than any other issue he’s worked on at Resource Center.

The no votes came from the same representatives that voted no and abstained on the issue two weeks ago. Michael Cheney, who represents Garland, called for a roll call vote. As he voted, he said he voted no after consulting with city officials in Garland.

Garland doesn’t have a nondiscrimination ordinance or protection for its LGBT city employees — yet.

The DART board meeting for final approval is tonight at 6 p.m. A number of members of the community are scheduled to speak, including the partner of a DART employee who can’t work for health reasons and contacted the agency about being added to his husband’s policy.

—  David Taffet

DART board members approve DP benefits plan in 1st of 3 votes

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Mike Muhammad

DART’s board, acting as a committee-of-the-whole, passed a domestic partner benefits plan this evening that must be passed twice more in two weeks — once more by the committee and then by the DART board. The proposal passed the Administrative Committee two weeks ago.

Cost was again an issue at today’s meeting. Mike Muhammad, DART’s vice president of diversity and innovative services, reported that in Pflugerville, where the school district began offering DP benefits last year, only two employees have taken advantage of the plan. He said the numbers in Fort Worth, and at Parkland hospital and DFW Airport have been similar.

Using national averages of employees who participate in DP benefits plans, Muhammad said he expects 11 or 12 of DART’s employees to take advantage of the plan, costing the agency a total of $70,000 annually including dental benefits.

To avoid a challenge by Attorney General Greg Abbott, who could claim domestic partnerships are not legal in Texas, DART is proposing offering a plus-one plan. Under the plus-0ne plan, an unmarried adult DART employee could cover one unrelated adult in the household. The unrelated adult must not be eligible for coverage by his or her own employer and not be eligible for government coverage. The unrelated adult must live with the DART employee and they must prove they’ve lived together for at least one year.

Although Muhammad gave the same presentation he made two weeks ago, board members were still confused about who could be covered. One asked why DART should cover any roommate. Another questioned whether DART has considered dropping heterosexual spouses who could get coverage elsewhere from the agency’s plan. A third wondered if DART would start covering the spouses of employees in common-law marriages (it already does).

DART board chair John Danish tried to explain why the agency was using the plus-one plan rather than domestic partnerships. He said they were balancing two Supreme Court rulings recognizing same-sex marriage with an attorney general’s opinion that doesn’t.

When board members continued to have questions, they went into executive session for an hour.

After they returned to open session, the vote for the plan was eight in favor, on against and one abstention.

The plan must be voted by the committee again on Sept. 24. If it passes its second committee vote in the afternoon, the board will vote again that evening. The committee-of-the-whole and the board are made up of the same members.

—  David Taffet

Member put on DART board by LGBT allies won’t take stance on DP benefits

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LGBT advocates at the DART board meeting.

Four LGBT advocates spoke at a DART board meeting on Tuesday evening to encourage the agency to offer domestic partner benefits, but discussion of the topic was delayed until August. And a new DART board member refused to say whether she supported DP benefits.

Amanda Moreno Cross was nominated for the DART board by Councilwomen Monica Alonzo, Pauline Medrano and Delia Jasso. After the meeting, Cross said it was her first meeting and declined to comment on whether she supports equal benefits for the transit authority’s employees.

Transgender activist Pam Curry addressed the board wearing a sign that read: “I was born gay. Were you born hateful?”

“Once again, you have put off DP benefits,” she told the board. “Even our federal employees and military get benefits.”

—  David Taffet

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.

—  Anna Waugh

Blumer, Gutierrez address DART board

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Oliver Blumer

Two LGBT speakers addressed the DART board Tuesday as part of an ongoing effort to get the transit agency to offer offer domestic partner benefits for employees.

LGBT community members have been speaking at every DART meeting since the board voted to delay discussion of DP benefits until after a Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act later this month.

Felipe Gutierrez, representing Equality Texas Foundation, addressed the board and used a study done by Equality Texas on the attitude of Texans toward the LGBT community to try to convince DART to add partner benefits.

Oliver Blumer, representing the Transgender Equality Network of Texas, said he began by telling board members, “I hope you have some place in you heart,” but ended by saying, “Your inaction illuminates your privilege, prejudice and discrimination.”

Blumer said he couldn’t tell if any of the board members heard a word he said, referring to them as a bunch of male, pale, stale old men. He said their reaction was mostly blank stares.

“What are you going to wait for next?” Blumer told the board. He suggested they might wait for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to pass Congress, which would provide them with plenty more time.

Resource Center Dallas spokesman Rafael McDonnell also attended the DART meeting and has been coordinating speakers for DART board meetings. Anyone who would like to speak should contact McDonnell.

 

—  David Taffet

LGBT advocates tell DART board to ‘jump on’ adding DP benefits

Damien Duckett

Damien Duckett

LGBT advocates are continuing to press DART’s Board of Directors to vote to add domestic partner benefits now instead of waiting until July to make a decision.

Transgender activist Pamela Curry addressed the board Tuesday night during public comments. She highlighted the issues customers, including herself, have had with bus drivers and other DART employees. She said the way to improve the quality of employees DART hires is offer competitive benefits.

“If you want to attract the best and brightest, you have to treat your operators, you have to attract the best and the brightest, and the way you do that is you make sure everyone gets the benefits for their family,” she said. “Just because their family doesn’t look like yours doesn’t mean it’s not a family.”

—  Anna Waugh

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.”

—  Anna Waugh

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.

—  Anna Waugh