Domestic partner benefits put on hold | NevadaAppeal.com
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Domestic partner benefits put on hold

The Legislative Commission put the plan to provide state benefits for domestic partners on hold Monday until they get solid answers on the potential costs and number of potential users.

The Public Employee Benefits Program board voted 6-2 last week to send the plan to the Legislature despite objections from the governor, who said it wouldn’t be fiscally prudent given the state’s budget crisis.

In part as a result of that vote, Jacque Ewing-Taylor, who represents the university system, and Ron Swirczek, who represents retirees, were informed by the governor’s office their appointments will not be renewed July 1.

“We’ve been fired,” said Ewing-Taylor.

Sen. Warren Hardy of Las Vegas and Assembly members Pete Goicoechea of Eureka and John Carpenter of Elko said up front they couldn’t support the proposal. Hardy specifically said he believes that kind of policy decision should be made by the Legislature, not at the regulatory level.

The proposal would allow unmarried partners ” both same sex and opposite sex ” of state workers to be covered by the state plan. It would cost an estimated $2.7 million a year.

PEBP Executive Officer Leslie Johnstone said the actuaries say there is no real difference in cost to cover domestic partners than to cover married couples. She said the vast majority of those couples are opposite sex couples who, for a variety of reasons, have chosen not to marry. Jim Richardson, representing the university system, said in some cases, marriage would cost those couples another benefit.

He said all eight campuses believe it will be a valuable recruiting tool for them, especially since higher education systems surrounding Nevada all provide that benefit except for Idaho.

Sen. John Lee, D-Las Vegas, suggested the regulations should be expanded to cover one dependent of the employee’s choice, whether that person be the “significant other” or a parent that needs to be taken care of.

The commission, chaired by Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, agreed they would want significantly more information about the costs, how many people would be eligible and other issues raised by the proposal before voting on it. But the commission initially rejected the idea of postponing the vote.

But after Townsend and Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, pointed out that, by law, if they took no action, the regulations go into effect immediately, they held another vote and overwhelmingly decided to defer the issue to the next commission meeting.

Townsend asked Johnstone to find more solid data from other states where domestic partner coverage has been approved so lawmakers could make a better informed decision.

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