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  March 27, 2000

Employees Eligible for Domestic Partner Benefits

An arbitrator's decision to award family health and pension coverage to state employees who live with domestic partners of the same sex went into effect on March 9, after the Legislature took no action to stop it.

Group Formed for Gays, Lesbians

A new social group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender faculty and staff has been started by Hans Turley, assistant professor of English, and will meet twice per month. The group will meet next at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 30, at the Mansfield Depot Restaurant on Route 44.

"The idea is that this is a great way to meet others," Turley says. "What we are trying to do is create a sense of community." He says that since he came to UConn in 1998, many steps, including the founding of the Rainbow Center, have been taken to make the University more friendly to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

The group does not have a permanent meeting place. For information about the next meeting, contact Turley via email.

The arbitrator, ruling in a case brought against the state by the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC), states that eligible couples must live together in a serious committed relationship and must have been mutually dependent for at least one year. Children of either partner could also be covered.

"This decision simply recognized that the crucial need for working families to have decent health and pension coverage doesn't disappear just because the families are headed by same-sex couples," said Daniel Livingston, of the law firm Livingston, Adler, Pulda and Meiklejohn of Hartford, chief negotiator for SEBAC. "It correctly applied the collective bargaining laws covering state employees to treat the needs of long-term domestic partners and their families with the same respect that we give other families."

Under state law, the decision, made by arbitrator Roberta Golick, becomes law automatically 30 days after it is made, unless the General Assembly determines by a two-thirds vote of either house "that there are insufficient funds for full implementation of the award." No action was taken on the decision by the Legislature.

The decision makes state employment more attractive to gays and lesbians, and makes state employment competitive with private sector employers, who have offered similar benefits for quite some time, said Martha Nelson, director of the Rainbow Center. Nelson, who was a representative to SEBAC of the University of Connecticut Professional Employees Association, said she views the decision as one more positive for the gay, lesbian and transsexual community.

"Connecticut has been a leader in human rights, but on this issue, it was behind the times. I'm pleased that the Legislature did not challenge the arbitrator's decision and that very basic benefits will not be denied to families," she said.

Rules from the state comptroller's office indicate that employees who wish to add a same-sex domestic partner to their coverage must fill out an Affidavit of Domestic Partnership, available from the University's Department of Human Resources, that will be "treated in the same manner as a Certificate of Marriage" for state benefits. After the affidavit is executed, employees will have 30 days to enroll their partner in the benefit plan, or wait until the next open enrollment period for health insurance occurs.

The controller's office notes in a memo issued on March 10 that adding same-sex partners to the benefits plan may have tax implications : "unless the employee attests in his or her affidavit to providing more than 50 percent of a domestic partner's financial support, the premium paid by the state towards health care coverage for such partner will be imputed and, consequently, reported as taxable income."

Although the ruling initially applied only to unionized workers, the state last week agreed to extend the benefits to all state employees, said Livingston.

Connecticut is the fifth state to extend pension and health benefits to same-sex domestic partners, he said.

Originally, SEBAC asked that the ruling also cover unmarried heterosexual couples. "There was strong opposition to that on the part of the state," Livingston said. Now the

decision is based on the fact that same-sex couples do not have the option to marry and achieve benefits through marriage, as heterosexual couples do.

The cost of covering same-sex domestic partners is anticipated to amount to approximately $1.3 to $1.5 million annually, which the arbitrator said was a "minuscule amount of money when compared to overall state personnel costs of more than $2.8 billion dollars," Livingston said.

Nelson said the award is another positive step in making UConn hospitable to the gay community. "UConn has some very progressive policies, but we needed to achieve health and pension benefits for same-sex couples through the state-wide collective bargaining process," she said. "There has been a real shift in the atmosphere here for gays, lesbians, transsexuals, and bi-sexuals," she said, "and this is one more positive step."

Questions about adding same-sex partners to health and pension coverage should be directed to the Department of Human Resources at (860) 486-0400.

Karen A. Grava