Judge removed from benefits program board

After serving in just one meeting, Washoe District Judge Janet Berry has been taken off the Public Employee Benefits Program board.

Josh Hicks, chief of staff to Gov. Jim Gibbons, notified Berry she could not serve on the board after discovering that Nevada Revised Statutes specifically prohibit any elected officials from serving on that board " a rule designed to reduce the potential politicization of the benefits board.

Hicks reviewed the statute after a reporter asked him about the prohibition.

He said he and other staff simply weren't aware of the law when they recommended Berry. The governor made the appointment just a month ago.

"We messed up," he said.

He said Berry's appointment was originally hailed as an excellent choice by program advocates because of her reputation as intelligent, hard working and fair.

Hicks said another appointee would be announced this week along with appointees to fill the other two vacancies on the PEBP board.

Those two vacancies were created when the four year terms for Ron Swirczek and Jacque Ewing Taylor expired June 30. Gov. Gibbons decided not to reappoint them because of his objections to their advocacy for regulations expanding the benefits program to insure domestic partners " both same and opposite sex " as it now does married couples.

But late Friday, indications from the administration were that Ewing Taylor would be reappointed after all. Employee groups had asked she be reinstated pointing out that she was simply arguing for the university system's membership in advocating domestic partner benefits. She represents the university system's members in the benefits program and it was the university system that has pushed for domestic partnership benefits for the past five years. They said it is a necessary recruiting tool for new employees and professors.

Advocates argued that she has been a valuable asset on the PEBP board, helping to develop a variety of different programs including wellness programs.

The regulations permitting coverage of domestic partners was last week approved by the Legislative Commission. However, actually providing the coverage is contingent on the state finding the money for that enhancement, estimated at $8.6 million over the biennium.

- Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.


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