BREAKING: Dallas County approves domestic partner insurance benefits


Derrick Spillman with DFW Pride Movement addresses the Dallas County Commissioners Court on Oct. 30, 2012. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

The gay and straight domestic partners of Dallas County employees will soon be eligible for a $300 monthly subsidy from the county to help pay for health insurance.

The County Commissioners Court voted 3-2 along party lines Tuesday morning to offer the subsidy to employees who have same- or opposite-sex domestic partners who do not have insurance through other means. The subsidy will be equal to the amount the county contributes to an employee’s health insurance.

County Judge Clay Jenkins, and Commissioners Dr. Elba Garcia and John Wiley Price, who comprise the court’s Democratic majority, voted in favor of offering the domestic partner subsidy. Republican Commissioners Mike Cantrell and Maurine Dickey voted against it.

Commissioners made comments before several speakers addressed the court on the issue.

Dickey said the court shouldn’t fund a special group outside of the Public Employee Benefits Cooperative because its members didn’t approve it.

Jenkins and Garcia, who spearheaded the initiative, had initially hoped to offer domestic partner benefits through the PEBC, a multi-county partner agency, but other members — including Denton and Tarrant counties — would not allow it.

Dickey said approving benefits for domestic partners would lead to funding other special groups, such as obese people, smokers or people that have blue Pontiacs.

“We must stay within the realm of our group, of our PEBC, in order to offer our employees the best possible and lowest possible health insurance,” she said.

—  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

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

Parkland adds DP benefits; Dallas County won’t

County Judge Clay Jenkins, left, and District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons

Fitzsimmons slams commissioners for failing to study issue

JOHN WRIGHT | Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

The domestic partners of gay and lesbian employees at Parkland hospital will soon have access to health benefits, after the facility’s Board of Managers voted this week to approve a proposal first put forward nearly four years ago.

The Board of Managers voted 6-0, with one member abstaining, to offer DP benefits to gays and lesbians who are among the Parkland Health & Hospital System’s 9,400 employees.

The addition of DP benefits at Parkland, which takes effect Jan. 1, is expected to cost $696,635 in fiscal year 2012. But Dr. Lauren McDonald, who chairs the Board of Managers, said offering the benefits will make the hospital more competitive for workers and improve the quality of care it provides to patients.

“I think if anything it eventually enriches us as opposed to costing us money,” McDonald said after the vote, adding that DP benefits have been “a long time coming.”

In September 2007, McDonald pulled a proposal to add DP benefits from the Board of Managers’ agenda at the last minute, citing opposition from “ultra-right wing, homophobic” board members.

Parkland is Dallas County’s public hospital, and the Board of Managers is appointed by the Commissioners Court, which was then controlled by Republicans.

“We opted at the time not to even bring it up,” McDonald told Dallas Voice in 2008. “If you have a vote that’s negative, you send a message.”

After Democrats took control of the Commissioners Court at the start of this year, several new members were appointed to the seven-person Board of Managers. The new members include Dr. Roberto de la Cruz, who is openly gay and made the motion to approve DP benefits on Tuesday.

“It’s a big day,” de la Cruz said after the vote, adding that he trained as an intern at Parkland in the 1990s. “It’s a personal day for me because I come from here.”

The Board of Managers member who abstained from Tuesday’s vote was Jerry Bryant. “I don’t want to discuss it,” Bryant said when asked the reason for his abstention. Bryant was appointed to the Board of Managers by Republican Commissioner Mike Cantrell earlier this year.

Although Parkland is adding DP benefits in 2012, the Commissioners Court has no plans to do so for Dallas County’s roughly 7,000 employees, County Judge Clay Jenkins confirmed this week.

Jenkins, a Democrat who chairs the Commissioners Court and supports offering DP benefits, said he was “very pleased” with the Parkland vote and had lobbied for the change among appointees to the Board of Managers.

“I think that’s the right thing to do for a variety of reasons,” Jenkins said. “We’ve got to recruit and keep the very best staff, and this is an important component of successfully doing that.”

But Jenkins noted that the county is facing a $35 million budget shortfall this year and already plans to cut $5.6 million in employee health care costs — under a proposal that’s set to be voted on by the Commissioners Court next Tuesday, Aug. 30.

Jenkins said he hopes to look at adding DP benefits next year, when the county’s budget shortfall is expected to be smaller. He added that the Parkland board’s vote will “put the county in a better position to favorably consider doing this.”

“I will use the empirical data that arises from that decision in crafting a plan for the county,” Jenkins said.

District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons, who’s openly gay, said a plan for the county to offer DP benefits should already have been crafted.

Fitzsimmons said he met with the newly elected members of the Commissioners Court —Jenkins and Dr. Elba Garcia — in January and asked them to initiate a study of the cost of offering DP benefits.

But when Dallas Voice inquired about the status of the DP benefits initiative earlier this month, it became clear that no such study had been conducted. Instead, a county spokeswoman provided the newspaper with “off the-cuff” figures, Fitzsimmons said.

The Commissioners Court voted in April to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the county’s employment nondiscrimination policy. But Fitzsimmons called that move “largely symbolic” and said it has little potential financial impact.

“It’s not enough to expect our elected officials to support equality in the workplace when it doesn’t cost them,” Fitzsimmons said. “They need to support equality in the workplace when it does cost them.”

—  John Wright