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

Dallas County employees can now enroll in DP benefits program

Gay Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons forwarded this document that was emailed to county employees by the human resources department. (click to enlarge)

Dallas County’s domestic partner benefits program began Jan. 1 and the human resources department already has information up online reminding people of the qualifications.

After hitting roadblocks to offer the benefits through the healthcare co-op the county is a member of, the benefits were approved 3-2 by the Commissioner’s Court on party lines in October.

Partners of same- and opposite-sex employees who do not have insurance are can receive a subsidy toward their own privately purchased plan. They must have lived together for at least six months, be 18 years or older and not currently married. The county will reimburse employees for 45 percent of their partners’ insurance or up to $295.78 monthly — the amount the county contributes toward employees’ coverage — whichever is less.

Documentation for adults and children is listed below.

—  Anna Waugh

Pflugerville school board votes to keep domestic partner benefits

About 40 people spent hours addressing the Pflugerville ISD school board Dec. 13, with fewer than 10 speaking against the benefits in a packed cafeteria.

The Pflugerville school board made history Thursday night, voting 5-1 in favor of offering domestic partner benefits to district employees.

The proposal, recommended by the district employees’ insurance commission, initially passed in October, making the school district the first in Texas to approve DP benefits. But a trustee requested a review of the plan after news that it covered same-sex couples. About 40 people spent hours addressing the board Thursday, with less then 10 speaking out against the benefits in a packed cafeteria, Austin’s KVUE reports.

“I believe that teachers who I work with down the hall from me should be able to get the same benefits that I get for my wife and my child,” said teacher August Plock, a member of the Pflugerville Educators Association that began a Change.org petition in favor of the benefits.

Shortly after Pflugerville ISD — as well as Dallas County — approved DP benefits in October, anti-gay state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, requested an opinion from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott about whether the benefits violate Texas’ constitutional banning same-sex marriage. No word yet from Patrick, but he’s probably not happy about last night’s vote.

Unfortunately, while the issue is decided for now in Pflugerville, Dallas ISD — and most other districts in Texas — won’t be able to offer DP benefits anytime soon.

Watch KVUE’s newscast below.

—  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

Republican commissioners speak out against domestic partner benefits

LGBT activist C.d. Kirven addresses the Dallas County Commissioners Court about the importance of offering domestic partner benefits Tuesday morning. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

The two Republican members of the Dallas County Commissioners Court said they oppose a plan to offer domestic partner benefits to county employees on Tuesday, citing the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

After the Commissioners Court was briefed on the plan, several speakers highlighted the issue of equality and the county’s need to be competitive to recruit and retain quality employees. The speakers were Cece Cox with Resource Center Dallas, Omar Narvaez with Lambda Legal, Travis Gasper with Equality Texas and C.d. Kirven with GetEQUAL TX.

Republican Commissioner Mike Cantrell then read a statement into the record, calling the plan part of a political agenda. He said the county should not offer the benefits because the federal and state government don’t recognize domestic partners.

“The county is an arm of the state government and as an elected official, my duties are bound to conform with legislation that dictates and defines what determines a legal union,” he said.

—  Anna Waugh

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