Dallas County plan now appears to have 3 votes needed for passage; DART also weighs health insurance for gay partners, but DISD can’t


ON BOARD | Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price says he’s received emails from constituents and others asking him to support the measure, but he has ignored them because he was always in favor of adding DP benefits.

ANNA WAUGH  |  Staff Writer

Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price confirmed his support this week for offering domestic partner benefits to gay and lesbian county employees.

Price told Dallas Voice on Thursday, Oct. 11, that he was approached several months ago about his support for DP benefits.

“It’s been tossed in the air, and I’ve said I’m supportive. I said that, and that’s my position still,” he said. “I’ll vote for it. I’ll be in the affirmative, and we’ll move forward.”

County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Elba Garcia, the other two members of the court’s Democratic majority, started working on a plan to offer the benefits in late August after members of the Public Employee Benefits Cooperative refused to allow the county to offer them.

The plan focuses on providing the benefits outside of the PEBC, a multi-county government partner agency designed to help keep the cost of health insurance affordable.

Garcia said this week that the plan passed through a review of the county’s Human Resources Department with two changes and is currently under review by the legal department. She declined to comment on the specifics of the plan until she sees the final version, but said it is a separate plan outside of the PEBC.

“It’s moving forward. I feel very good that we’ve moved this fast,” Garcia said. “I feel confident that it’s going in the right direction.”

Garcia said she hopes to have a final plan within two weeks to present to the Commissioners Court.

Price said he is waiting to view the final plan so commissioners can approve it. He said he has received emails from constituents and others asking him to support the measure, but he has ignored them because he was always in favor of adding DP benefits.

“It’s just an equity issue, that’s all,” he said. “You do the same thing for all your employees. What they do in their relationships, that’s their business. Whatever we give all of our employees, we should give to all of our employees. That’s a very basic equity principle.”
DP benefits are moving forward with Dallas Area Rapid Transit as well, although the final outcome at DART is less clear. At an Oct. 9 meeting, the DART board’s administrative committee requested a formal proposal and more information about cost and implementation from other cities and states.

The proposal is expected to be presented to the committee in November. If approved, it would then proceed to the full DART board.

Andrew Moss, the former DART police officer who started a petition in July calling for the agency to add DP benefits, said he was happy the committee is discussing it.

“I am so thrilled that DART is listening for the first time,” Moss said.

Moss quit working because of health issues and wanted to be added to his husband’s insurance since he still works for DART. When Moss found out the benefits would not be offered, he started the petition. His COBRA expires in December, but he said he’s hopeful the board will add the benefits after his efforts.

Meanwhile, Dallas Independent School District employees aren’t likely to have DP benefits any time soon.

After Pflugerville ISD made headlines this week as the first school district in Texas to offer the benefits, DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander explained that DISD can’t offer DP benefits.

DISD’s health insurance is through the Teacher Retirement System of Texas’ ActiveCare program.

Howard Goldman, a spokesman for the Teacher Retirement System, said state law prohibits the TRS from offering DP benefits.

About 90 percent of Texas school districts use TRS ActiveCare. But Pflugerville ISD switched to a self-managed plan a few years ago.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 12, 2012.