State panel OKs same-sex benefits

by Maggie Hessel-Mial

Same-sex domestic partners seeking health insurance benefits from the state have cleared their first hurdle in the process of contract ratification.

Contracts were passed for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees at a Legislative Coordi-nating Commission Subcommittee on Employee Relations meeting Tuesday.

The contracts include provisions offering health and dental benefits for state employees’ same-sex domestic partners.

The vote on approving the contracts officially ended in a tie, but subcommittee law stipulates that ties are equivalent to passing an item on to the full Legislature.

The contracts go into effect Dec. 21 but won’t be concrete until legislators ratify them next session, scheduled to begin Jan. 29.

“Our main goal was to get the contracts into effect,” said Peter Benner, AFSCME Council 6
executive director. “I am firmly
convinced that at the end of the session it will be approved as is.”

Following the tie vote, Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, moved to vote on a resolution disapproving the contracts’ collective bargaining agreement – a provision which had been developed following a state employee strike.

Knoblach also said he was concerned with how the contracts defined same-sex partners.

The contracts read that partners who are over age 18, not related by blood or adoption, interdependent on each other and sharing the same docile are eligible for the benefits.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Carol Molnau, R-Chaska, said she was wary of the contracts because of the loose standards.

“We have no way to determine if two people of the same sex are in a long-term relationship other than they have to sign a paper saying they are in a long-term relationship,” Molnau said.

Despite the concerns brought up by Molnau and Knoblach, the committee defeated Knoblach’s resolution.

Louise Hotka, a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency employee, and her partner, Jill Meyer, were pleased with the outcome of the votes after initial fears the contracts would not pass.

“I’m pretty relieved,” Hotka said. “We still have a few more hurdles to get past with the legislative session. It’s a controversial issue and people will come up with all kinds of reasons to oppose it.”

Hotka said she and her partner will continue to support the benefits until a final decision is made. She said she thinks educating people on the issue is an important step to getting the contracts ratified.

“We need to continue to explain to people what this means,” she said. “Members in the union don’t all understand that this is not a benefit that will take away from other benefits.”

Confusion on what the contracts mean has also meant more comments from constituents, Molnau said.

Despite the concerns brought up by some legislators, MAPE executive director Jim Monroe said he is relieved by the decision.

“The debate was necessary,” Monroe said. “This will be a tough session; this is just the first skirmish though.”

Maggie Hessel-Mial welcomes comments at [email protected]