Activists plan to ‘red out’ DART board meeting in support of DP benefits

DARTDpBene

GetEQUAL TX is planning on showing up in full force at next Tuesday’s DART board meeting to address the board about its lack of action on domestic partner benefits.

Activists will wear red in honor of marriage equality and stand up when speakers address the board about domestic partner benefits during the open comments portion of the meeting.

The board voted last week to table action on a plan to offer DP benefits until July so the U.S. Supreme Court can decide two marriage equality cases.

Rafael McDonnell with Resource Center Dallas said he wants someone to speak about their delayed action at every board meeting until they take up the issue again in July.

DART’s board meets next Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at 483 N. Field St.

For more on Tuesday’s “red out,” go here.

—  Anna Waugh

BREAKING: DART vote delays passage of domestic partner benefits

Mike.Mohammed

DART Vice President of Diversity Michael Mohammed

A vote late this afternoon on partner health benefits by the DART board continues discussion until the next committee meeting.

The DART board met behind closed doors for more than half an hour to discuss the health plan before opening the meeting to visitors. The plan they were discussing was approved by the administrative committee earlier this month.

The plan under consideration is comparable to those adopted by the city of Dallas, DFW Airport, Austin and El Paso.

One motion to table discussion until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the California Proposition 8 case was defeated by a 7-6 vote that largely pitted Dallas delegates against the suburbs.

But because there were questions about the actual cost of claims, not just premiums, the board decided to continue discussion to the next meeting instead of passing the proposal for its second vote to the next committee-of-the-whole. From approval of the committee-of-the-whole, the proposal then goes to the board on a later date for approval.

Michael Mohammed, DART vice president for diversity, gave the committee estimated premium costs for the plan that will range from $60,748 to $734,849. But he didn’t have a figure on the cost of claims. DART, like many large corporations, is self-insured. Board members said they were only asking actuarial questions.

If a dependent contracted cancer, how much would that cost DART, one board member asked.

But premiums are determined actuarially to cover claims. So if the premium is figured correctly, the cost of the new participants would be covered.

Instead, the discussion will continue at the next meeting on March 5. At that meeting, the proposal could be sent to the committee-of-the-whole for second approval and then to the full board for final approval in April.

—  David Taffet

Resource Center asks LGBT community to contact DART board members

DART

Six DART board members have expressed their intention to vote in favor of domestic partner benefits for the agency’s gay and lesbian employees.

Five members voted in favor last week during an administrative committee meeting, passing the measure on to the full board. The board needs eight votes to pass the measure. It will meet Feb. 26 to discuss the issue and could vote as its next meeting March 12.

Rafael McDonnell with Resource Center Dallas said he’s encouraging the LGBT community to contact board members to tell them to vote for the DP benefits, as well as push for them to implement them immediately.

The proposed plan would extend the benefits to same- and opposite-sex couples no later than January 2014. But McDonnell said the agency is self-insured and could implement them as soon as a vote approves them.

“We’re close,” McDonnell said about the votes. “I feel really good about this, but we still have a lot of work to do.”

Former DART police officer Andrew Moss, who started a Change.org petition in July to urge the agency to add domestic partner benefits, said he’s glad the process is moving quickly. Moss’ husband still works for DART and could add him to his plan if the benefits are approved. His COBRA coverage ended in December, so he said he’d like the board to add the benefits before January.

“I would love for them to do it immediately just in the interest of fairness and equality,” he said, adding that the change would help a lot of people. “This doesn’t just benefit me.”

Contact information for DART board members can be found here.

—  Anna Waugh

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.

—  Anna Waugh

DART committee may vote on domestic partner benefits plans this afternoon

DART

After six months of discussion, DART’s administrative committee will review and possibly vote on one of three domestic partner benefits plans this afternoon.

The committee was expected to meet in January to discuss potential plans, but DART consultants were still working on the financial impact.

The first of the three proposed plans would extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners and their children. The second would extend benefits to both same- and opposite-sex domestic partners and children. And the third would extend benefits to same- and opposite-sex partners, children and another family member, according to the DART presentation materials.

DART’s consultant originally estimated adding DP benefits would cost $105,000 to $210,000, but the estimated costs on the proposal show $6,742 on the low side for the plan that covers only same-sex partners and their children to more than $1.6 million on the high end of the third plan that would also include a family member.

DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said the committee will discuss the plans at today’s meeting. If they vote to send a plan to the full board, it could be voted on as early as Feb. 26.

Resource Center Dallas CEO Cece Cox said after working with DART on this issue for two years, she’s glad the plans are being considered.

“I’m glad they’re moving forward with a plan for implementing equality for all of their employees,” she said, adding that they should approve one to send to the full board.

See the full explanation of the plans below.

—  Anna Waugh

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.

—  Anna Waugh

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.

—  Anna Waugh

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.

—  Anna Waugh

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.

—  Anna Waugh

DART committee to be briefed on domestic partner benefits this afternoon

The Dallas Area Rapid Transit administrative committee will hear a proposal this afternoon on offering domestic partner benefits.

Claude Williams, a DART board member and vice chair of the administrative committee, requested the item be brought up for discussion and a presentation be made at the committee’s September meeting. Members then requested more information before the briefing, so it was moved to the October meeting.

DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said the committee can respond in a few ways to the presentation, including requesting more information or asking for a proposal to be drafted for them to vote on at a future meeting.

Williams told Instant Tea that after the briefing, the item is placed on the agenda as an action item for the next meeting. If approved by the seven-member administrative committee, it would be sent for a first and second reading by the full DART board. Readings are often combined, but Williams said this issue is a tough one, so the board would likely take it’s time to consider the benefits and use every meeting in the process.

“Realistically before final adoption it will probably be the January meeting,” Williams said.

Andrew Moss, the former DART police officer who started a petition in July and spurred the progress with DART, said he was happy the committee would consider the possibility of benefits.

“I am so thrilled that DART is listening for the first time,” Moss said.

He said that while some people may be upset that the process hasn’t happened fast enough, the cost of the benefits could be added to the budget later, which Lyons previously said was a possibility.

Rafael McDonnell with Resource Center Dallas said he and an intern worked to compile a list of several dozen cities and counties in the nation that offer DP benefits for DART so the agency could better understand the cost and implementation process. McDonnell said he is hopeful that the committee will respond well and will move forward to eventually pass on a plan to the full board to vote on.

The meeting is today at 1:30 p.m. in DART Conference Room C on the first floor, at 1401 Pacific Ave.

—  Anna Waugh