The Associated Press March 23, 2011, 8:11AM ET

House bid to reject Mich. employee benefits stalls

A bid to rescind the extension of state-paid health insurance coverage to same-sex partners or other adults living with some state employees stalled Tuesday in the Michigan House.

A resolution that would reject the extension of benefits did not get enough votes to pass with the required two-thirds majority in the Republican-led chamber. The measure was getting 65 votes -- nine short of the 74 needed -- when the vote board was cleared without an official count announced.

Republicans say they have until April 18 to pass the resolution, and they likely will try again before that deadline. The resolution already has passed with a two-thirds majority in the Republican-led Senate.

The resolution would reject an extension of benefits awarded earlier this year by the Michigan Civil Service Commission. Benefits are scheduled to 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.

Republicans say the state can't afford to extend the benefits, which according to some estimates could cost up to roughly $11 million in the first year. Michigan is facing a projected budget deficit of roughly $1.4 billion for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

Two Democrats -- Rep. Richard LeBlanc of Westland and Rep. Charles Brunner of Bay City -- joined all 63 of the House's Republicans voting in favor of repealing the Civil Service Commission on Tuesday, although the vote was not officially recorded.

Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger said House Democrats are "clearly out of touch with the economic realities of our state and the ongoing challenges of Michigan taxpayers."

Democrats countered that the Republican move to rescind the benefits sets a dangerous precedent and represents an attempt to undermine an agreement 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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The resolution is SCR 9.


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