Dallas County weighs health-insurance vouchers for unmarried partners

Garcia.Elba

Commissioner Elba Garcia

A long-discussed proposal for Dallas County to offer health benefits to the partners of gay employees is finally taking shape.

The Dallas County Commissioners Court will be briefed on the domestic partner benefits plan Tuesday, according to an agenda posted online today.

The plan, detailed below, will provide benefits to both opposite- and same-sex domestic partners who do not have insurance provided to them through other means.

Commissioner Elba Garcia told Instant Tea that heterosexual domestic partners were added to prevent any perceived discrimination.

Garcia said the plan would offer subsidies to employees whose partners buy private insurance, and they would be refunded by the county the same amount the county pays for an employee’s insurance.

She said this was the only way to provide benefits outside of the county’s healthcare provider because the Public Employee Benefits Cooperative would not allow Dallas County to offer the benefits through the co-op.

Those who enroll will have to sign a domestic partner affidavit for Human Resources, as well as provide two forms of proof that they have lived together for six months, such as a lease agreement or joint bank accounts, Garcia said. She said partners must be at least 18 and not be married.

The projected cost is under $100,000, Garcia said.

Garcia said members of the court could suggest changes on Tuesday or it could be approved for a vote at the next meeting. Garcia, along with Commissioner John Wiley Price and County Judge Clay Jenkins, who make up the court’s Democratic majority, have said they support offering domestic partner benefits.

Gay Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons wrote a letter to the commissioners that will also appear on the briefing agenda for Tuesday’s meeting. The letter, below, states that “the provision of these benefits is a simple and clear issue of fairness that will make the county’s commitment to non-discrimination a reality for many of our employees.”

Fitzsimmons told Instant Tea that the plan isn’t ideal but what the best option to offer the benefits outside of the PEBC.

“Until such time that as the situation changes with the PEBC, this is an appropriate accommodation,” he said.

See the detailed plans 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

EQTX pushes for Dallas County commissioners to approve DP benefits

Equality Texas is calling on Dallas County citizens and employees to tell members of the Commissioners Court to approve offering domestic partner benefits to county employees.

The statewide LGBT advocacy group created an action letter that people can sign online and send to commissioners.

Equality Texas Interim Executive Director Chuck Smith said offering DP benefits has become a standard practice.

“It’s what people in the real world, real businesses in the real world, do in order to attract and retain good employees to where it’s not a big step,” he said. “It’s not going out on a limb for municipalities and counties to start doing this.”

Dallas County would become the third county to approve the benefits after Travis and El Paso counties.

County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Elba Garcia are working on a plan to offer the benefits despite the lack of support from a regional government partner agency. A Commissioners Court vote is expected in the next few months.

—  Anna Waugh

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.

—  Anna Waugh

El Paso County becomes 2nd in Texas to offer domestic partner benefits

Tom Brown

El Paso County became only the second county in Texas to offer domestic partner benefits after the Commissioners Court approved offering the benefits to gay and unmarried couples Monday.

Commissioners approved DP benefits 3-1 during a vote in the morning meeting, ABC-7 reports.

Estimated annual cost for the benefits is $23,905. Domestic partners can be of the same or opposite sex but must be at least 18 years old and have lived together for at least one year.

The El Paso City Council passed DP benefits in 2009 and again in 2011 after a repeal effort by pastor Tom Brown overturned the decision.

Domestic partner benefits for El Paso County employees were first proposed in 2009 but the vote was postponed and later deleted as an agenda item. In 2011, the motion failed to pass.

Travis County currently offers DP benefits. Cities in Texas that offer DP benefits are Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and El Paso. Dallas County Judge  Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins recently told Dallas Voice he hopes to add DP benefits this year.

Those who wish to enroll for the benefits in El Paso County must also submit three of the following documents: common ownership of a motor vehicle, driver’s licenses listing a common address, proof of joint bank accounts or credit accounts, designation as property power of attorney or health care power of attorney, designation as the primary beneficiary for life insurance, retirement benefits or primary beneficiary designation under a partner’s will.

—  Anna Waugh

DART refuses to meet with former employee about adding DP benefits

Former Dallas Area Rapid Transit police officer Andrew Moss was supposed to meet with a DART official this week, but no meeting took place and won’t anytime soon.

Moss no longer works at DART and has stopped working for health reasons. His partner still works there so he could add Moss to his health insurance if DART offered DP benefits. He started a Change.org petition encouraging the agency to add the benefits, which has garnered 1,044 signatures.

DART contacted Moss two weeks ago after Instant Tea brought the petition to their attention, he said. Planning began for a meeting with him and Deputy Executive Director Jesse Oliver.

The following week, Resource Center Dallas sent a letter to DART officials to encourage them to offer DP benefits. Moss was told he could meet with Jesse Oliver Monday or Tuesday of this week.

He received a letter from Betty Bird, DART’s director of compensation and benefits stating there were no plans to change the healthcare coverage for employees. The letter states eligible dependents are unmarried children under 26 and spouses recognized under Texas law.

Moss said he called Bird Monday and was informed that Oliver had asked her to send him the letter because he had no intention of meeting with Moss to discuss the matter. That news was a surprise to Moss after DART had reached out to him for a meeting.

“I was so surprised because they told me that I would meet with him,” Moss said, adding that Oliver likely backed out of a meeting once he found out it was LGBT-related. “I think the opinion changed, that he was open at one point to a conversation until he realized it was about LGBT issues and domestic partner benefits.”

DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said the agency didn’t reach out to Moss, but he did request a meeting several times. He said Moss is not an employee any longer and a letter explaining the policy was sent to him, so “there was just no reason to meet with him.”

However, DART officials will meet with the Resource Center Dallas representatives and are working to schedule a time. Lyons said officials have met with RCD in the past and have granted a request for a meeting after they received a letter from the center last week.

RCD’s Rafael McDonnell said employees have not yet been contacted to set up a meeting with DART.

Moss said he’ll appeal to the Board of Directors to get the issue discussed and possibly voted on. In the meantime, he said he’ll work to gain more support from the LGBT community for the cause.

“DART has the opportunity and the power to do the right thing and be on the right side of civil rights,” he said. “There’s nothing stopping them from doing what’s right.”

View the letter below.

—  Anna Waugh

RCD presses DART to add DP benefits

Andrew Moss

Resource Center Dallas CEO and Executive Director Cece Cox sent Dallas Area Rapid Transit officials a letter Monday urging the agency to offer its 3,500 employees domestic partner benefits.

Cox’s letter, addressed to DART Board Chair John Carter and Diversity Committee Chair Claude Williams, comes in response to a Change.org petition created by a former employee. The letter states that adding DP benefits is about “fairness and equitable treatment for all employees” and lists how other companies and cities have offered DP benefits at a lower-than-expected cost.

It goes on to request that DART review its “nondiscrimination policy, add gender expression as was the intent of the board when it voted on it in June 2010, and eliminate cumbersome, confusing language that obfuscates the intent of a policy to protect all employees fr0m discrimination.”

DART’s board approved adding trans protections to its nondiscrimination policy in 2010 amid controversy, but advocates have called the language less than ideal.

Former DART police officer Andrew Moss, who started the petition, said DART reached out to him to schedule a meeting with Deputy Executive Director Jesse Oliver for early next week. His petition has garnered 920 signatures.

Moss said he plans to explain how DP benefits would add value to the company, as well as change a negative view of DART in the gay community.

“DART hasn’t had a positive image in the LGBT community and hopefully a move like this will improve the image,” he said.

Moss said DART’s quick reaction in setting up a meeting means the agency views the issues as “something that’s pressing.”

While he hopes the meeting ultimately helps change DART’s stance on DP benefits, he’s not sure what to expect.

“A lot of it really just depends on what he (Oliver) expects from the meeting,” Moss said. “If I go in there and his mind’s made up, it’s fruitless.”

Resource Center’s Rafael McDonnell told Instant Tea that the center reached out to Oliver after he was hired this spring to meet with him about diversity issues, but he never received a response. He said the letter is another request for a meeting and offered his support of Moss.

“Resource Center Dallas supports Andrew Moss’ efforts encouraging DART to establish domestic partner benefits for its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees,” McDonnell said. “This was an issue the Center initially brought up in 2010, when we worked with DART to establish transgender nondiscrimination protections for the agency’s employees.”

Read RCD’s letter below.

—  Anna Waugh

Former employee petitions DART to offer domestic partner benefits

Andrew Moss

A former Dallas Area Rapid Transit employee is petitioning the company to add domestic partner benefits after health issues have forced him to stop working.

Andrew Moss worked as a DART police officer for five years until 2008. He then worked for the city of Fort Worth until his health prevented him from working. He’s now on COBRA but that will expire in December, he said.

Moss legally married his husband in California in 2008, but Texas doesn’t recognize the marriage. He said his husband still works as a police officer for DART and could add Moss to his health insurance plan as early as January if DART offered DP benefits.

“My husband goes to work and risks his life for DART and should get the same benefits that his counterparts of a different sexual orientation get,” Moss said.

Moss has started a Change.org petition called “Urge Dallas Area Rapid Transit DART to Offer Domestic Partner Benefits” to persuade DART President Gary Thomas and Deputy Executive Director Jesse Oliver to add the benefits.

As of Thursday afternoon, 36 people had signed it.

“In my discussion with Dallas Area Rapid Transit, I was advised by their Human Resources Managers that DART ‘Prefers not to get into the choices of their employees,’” Moss mentions in the petition letter. “I wasn’t aware my husband and I and countless others woke up one day and decided to be LGBT. DART appears to be less than willing to even attempt to assist their LGBT population in obtaining benefits or other effective workplace protections.”

—  Anna Waugh

El Paso mayor’s support for DP benefits helps make him a finalist in World Mayor competition

El Paso Mayor John Cook

El Paso Mayor John Cook’s popularity for his stance on domestic partner benefits may earn him the title of world’s best mayor.

Cook’s efforts were not forgotten when it came time to nominate mayors for the World Mayor 2012 competition, sponsored by London-based think tank City Mayors Foundation. Thirteen of the 22 who wrote in support of Cook mentioned the benefits fight, according to the El Paso Times.

The City Council approved DP benefits in 2009, but the vote was overturned in a ballot measure led by anti-gay Pastor Tom Brown in 2010. Cook cast the tie-breaking vote last year to restore DP benefits, stirring Brown to begin a recall effort. A county judge ruled in Brown’s favor, but an appeals court later sided with Cook in February. Brown then appealed to the Texas Supreme Court but it’s doubtful the court will hear the case.

Cook is among five North American finalists and 25 worldwide for the award that recognizes a mayor’s achievements with a sculpture for commemoration. Votes and comments about the finalists’ achievements will be taken into consideration by the organization.

—  Anna Waugh