By Paul Davenport – Associated Press

Napolitano proposed rule change, said benefits are matter of fairness

In her first year in office, Gov. Janet Napolitano issued an executive order banning discrimination in state personnel practices based on sexual orientation.

PHOENIX — A plan to provide taxpayer-subsidized health insurance coverage for the domestic partners of state employees and retirees proposed by Gov. Janet Napolitano’s administration was approved by a state review panel Tuesday, April 1.

The Governor’s Regulatory Review Council voted 4-0 to approve rule changes proposed by the Department of Administration with support from Napolitano. Some Republican legislators opposed the move.

Dependents of domestic partners also will qualify.

The changes take effect 60 days after filing with the Secretary of State, and employees will be able to sign up for benefits as of Oct 1.

The review council, which has the final say over many agencies’ proposed rules, considers whether rules are necessary, legal and have benefits that outweigh costs.

Analysis by a staff attorney and economist for the council recommended approval of the rule changes, calling them legally within the department’s authority and cost-effective.

Supporters said providing benefits to partners and their dependents would help the state reduce costly turnover by being more competitive in recruitment and retention. Napolitano, among others, has argued that it was a question of fairness.

In her first year in office, Napolitano issued an executive order banning discrimination in state personnel practices based on sexual orientation.

Critics said the benefits rule changes would undermine the institution of marriage, burden the state with added costs at a time of budget trouble and, by doing it through rule changes, trample the Legislature’s policymaking role.

The state Senate on March 18 narrowly rejected a Republican bill to block the move by changing state law to define "dependent" as a spouse or unmarried child of an employee or retiree. The bill was supported by social conservatives and opposed by gay rights advocates.

The department’s Nov. 30 proposal would affect benefits systems serving some 65,000 state employees and 9,000 retirees. According to state estimates, the number of partners likely to be covered if the changes take effect ranges from 317 to 853.

The department said at least 15 other states already provide domestic partner benefits.

The department said state officials received 1,429 written comments from 913 individuals and groups. Among the 913 individuals and groups, 787 supported the proposals and 112 opposed them, with 14 merely seeking clarification.

Supporters included university officials, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Arizona branch, the Anti-Defamation League, a Tempe firefighters group and state Sen. Amanda Aguirre, D-Yuma. Opponents included the Center for Arizona Policy, the Alliance Defend Fund and five Republican state representatives.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 4, 2008.
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