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.