A regulation that makes it a Nevada policy to provide health care insurance benefits to domestic partners of state employees, including those of the same sex, was adopted Tuesday by a legislative subcommittee on a 3-2 vote.
But Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, said during a meeting of the Subcommittee on Regulations that the estimated $4 million needed to cover the expanded benefits still must be found during the 2009 legislative session, which starts in February.
In the coming session, Townsend said the entire Legislature also could debate whether it wants domestic partners to get the benefit. The state now provides $626 per month per employee in health care benefits.
Odds of the Legislature funding the health care benefits appear slim because Gov. Jim Gibbons has asked state agencies to prepare for cuts of 14 percent for the 2009-11 budget cycle. Gibbons also has said no increase in state support for the self-funded health program should take place because of declining tax revenue.
"It is not a time we can expand state benefits," Gibbons spokesman Ben Kieckhefer said. "This is $4 million that would have to be taken out of other state programs." But he added legislators should have a "policy debate" on whether health care benefits should be given to domestic partners.
Gary Peck, state director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said his group was pleased by the legislative subcommittee's action.
"We fully understand that money is an issue, but we hope the governor will reconsider his decision against funding these benefits," he added.
Officials from the Higher Education System of Nevada have argued that they have been hurt in recruiting efforts because the state doesn't offer health care benefits to domestic partners.
The higher education system was the first to approach the Public Employee Benefits Program Board with the request that health care benefits be given to domestic partners. The board backed the proposed regulation in June but decided earlier this month to delay requesting money until the economy recovers.
Sen. Maggie Carlton and Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera, both D-Las Vegas, joined Townsend in backing the regulation. Sen. Warren Hardy, R-Las Vegas, and Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, voted against the plan.