The Associated Press January 27, 2011, 8:46AM ET

Michigan commission OKs domestic-partner benefits

The Michigan Civil Service Commission voted Wednesday to extend state-paid health insurance coverage to same-sex partners or other adults living with some state employees, despite objections raised by Gov. Rick Snyder's administration over the measure's potential costs.

Benefits would kick in Oct. 1 for state employees represented by the United Auto Workers and the Service Employees International Union, in addition to many non-unionized employees, according to the Lansing State Journal.

But the expanded coverage could come under attack again when contracts are renegotiated, in some cases as early as this year.

The Snyder administration objected to the expanded coverage Wednesday, saying it could cost more than the $6 million per year originally projected. Michigan's state government faces an overall $1.8 billion shortfall for the budget year starting Oct. 1, and Snyder and lawmakers are looking for cost savings.

"We're certainly disappointed by the commission's action," Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel told The Associated Press. "We're evaluating the consequences closely."

Ray Holman, legislative liaison for UAW Local 6000, said the commission's vote is important because it recognizes the state's collective bargaining process. But Holman said the issue could resurface when the union, representing 17,000 state workers, goes into contract talks with the state this year.

Health coverage for same-sex partners was negotiated by state and union officials in 2004, shortly before Michigan voters approved a ballot initiative that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the ballot measure prevents governments from recognizing domestic partnerships to provide health insurance to the partners of gay workers.

The revised definition of those eligible to get benefits includes individuals of any gender who have lived with an eligible state employee for at least a year. The benefits could be extended only to one other adult, but that adult's children also would be eligible for coverage.

Some public universities and cities in Michigan have awarded benefits on the same basis since the court ruling.


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