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

Rep. Matt Krause says he’s not anti-gay despite Equality Texas ranking

State Rep. Matt Krause

State Rep. Matt Krause

Fort Worth Republican Matt Krause was recently named the worst legislator in the state House on LGBT issues by Equality Texas.

Krause called last Thursday night after the deadline for the story, but we were able to connect Friday and discuss the ranking, as well as his views on some LGBT issues. Until now Krause, who’s worked for the anti-gay Liberty Counsel, was perhaps best known in the community for his representation of Dakota Ary, a Fort Worth student accused of harassing a gay teacher.

Krause attributes the ranking to his amendment to SB 215 that started out as HB 360 and would have allowed student groups to determine who to allow into clubs based on sexual orientation, race and gender.

“Their rankings are up to them. They use the criteria of the votes of the issue they want to , so I can’t really disagree with them. I think if you talk to anybody, you wouldn’t find that I’m hateful toward the LGBT community, that I have any type of disregard for them,” Krause said. “It’s nothing that I do out of animosity. It’s just what I feel is constitutionally sound, but I think there’s a lot of people, maybe with Equality Texas, that think I don’t like them or appreciate them for who they are. That’s not true. But if they want to give me the worst legislator ranking, that’s their prerogative and completely up to them.”

HB 360 was rewritten and a substitute made it out of committee, but the bill didn’t make it onto the floor. The amendment was then created to allow universities to not follow “all-comers” policies. Krause said he should have monitored the bill’s original language more closely because the intent was not to discriminate but to not force groups from admitting people who would undermine the club’s purposes.

“When the draft came back and it said, you know, race, gender and sexual orientation, we should have known right then that’s not the language we wanted to use,” Krause said. “It was never my intent for a political group to be able to discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation or an athletic group being able to discriminate on the basis of race, something that had nothing to do with the actual club.”

—  Anna Waugh

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

2 anti-gay bills die in TX Legislature

Springer.DrewHB 1568 by Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, which aimed to defund school districts that offer health benefits to partners of employees, is officially dead.

HB 360 by Fort Worth Republican Matt Krause also died. Krause’s substitute bill would have allowed school organizations to disregard the college’s nondiscrimination policy.

Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said the bills didn’t make in onto the last House calendar for May 9, and therefore will not go to the floor for a vote.

“It’s dead,” Smith said. “This is a victory.”

Springer’s bill was considered in committee, and a substitute passed out of committee in late April. The substitute changed cutting school funding to allowing the attorney general to defund and close school districts that offer DP benefits without an appeals process. Only Pflugerville and Austin ISD have elected to offer the benefits.

Equality Texas worked with the House Calendars Committee to ensure both bills would miss the deadline. They could come up again this session if they are attached to another bill, but Smith said Equality Texas would watch changes to bills to ensure that doesn’t happen.

—  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

Only 1 El Paso mayoral candidate supports pro-LGBT Proposition 7

Steve Ortega

Steve Ortega

Only one of six candidates for El Paso mayor is strongly backing an initiative to include LGBT protections in the city’s nondiscrimination policy and maintain domestic partner benefits.

Councilman Steve Ortega said he strongly supports Proposition 7, which will be voted on May 11.

“To me, this is the civil rights issue of our time,” Ortega told the El Paso Times. “It’s non-negotiable for me. A community that doesn’t fight against discrimination tolerates it, and I never want El Paso to be in that category.”

The council approved DP benefits in 2009 but voters later voted to end them. Ortega was a proponent when the council added them again in 2011.

Proposition 7 would add sexual orientation, gender identity and marital status to the city’s nondiscrimination policy. Its passage would allow the city to continue to offer health benefits to employees’ opposite- and same-sex partners. Reversing the benefits would require another voter-approved charter amendment.

Conservative businessman Robert Cormell told the Times that he would repeal domestic partner benefits if he is elected mayor.

“It’s a financial decision,” he said. “It’s not a gay issue. It’s an unmarried issue.”

The other candidates —Leo Gus Haddad, Oscar Leeser, Hector H. Lopez and Jaime O. Perez — wouldn’t commit to a stance on the nondiscrimination policy or DP benefits but said they support equality.

—  Anna Waugh

UPDATE: House committee removes anti-gay education bill for consideration

Springer.Drew

UPDATE, 5:15 p.m.: Equality Texas reports that HB 1538 has been removed for consideration from the House Public Education Committee. However, the bill could come back up for discussion or a vote at a later date.

ORIGINAL POST: Equality Texas is asking people to contact lawmakers and urge them to vote against advancing an anti-gay education bill the House Public Education Committee is expected to vote on later today.

HB 1568 by Republican Rep. Drew Springer of Muenster would cut state funding for school districts that offer domestic partner benefits to employees. Pflugerville and Austin ISD are the only school districts in Texas that have decided to offer DP benefits.

Six Republicans and five Democrats sit on the committee, which left the bill pending after a hearing last week.

Jonathan Saenz, president of anti-gay group Texas Values, told Dallas Voice he expects the bill to pass through committee and be signed into law.

Contact info for House Public Education Committee members is below.

Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, 512-463-0684

Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, 512-463-0309

John Davis, R-Houston, 512-463-0734

Bennett Ratliff, R-Coppell, 512-463-0468

Dan Huberty, R-Houston, 512-463-0520

Ken King, R-Canadian, 512-463-0736

Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, 512-463-0662

Harold Dutton, D-Houston, 512-463-0510

Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, 512-463-0669

Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston, 512-463-0744

Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, 512-463-0532

—  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

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