Supporters, foes lining up on bill to add same-sex benefits at state level

(Photo/Danny Hammontree, Flickr)

(Photo/Danny Hammontree, Flickr)

The usual suspects are sending out alerts urging support or opposition to a state bill headed to its first hearing Wednesday afternoon that would allow state employees to add same-sex domestic partners to their benefits packages. The Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee sits down at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday to hear arguments for and against Senate Bill 88, sponsored by state Sen. Jennifer Veiga and state Rep. Mark Ferrandino, the General Assembly’s two openly gay members.

The Colorado Family Institute, an arm of Focus on the Family, “OPPOSES this legislation because it would force taxpayers to endorse domestic partnerships by financially [subsidizing] behaviors they believe are immoral,” according to an e-mail blast sent out Wednesday morning.

The conservative group goes on:

It was just two years ago that Colorado citizens rejected a domestic partnership ballot measure (Referendum I) and changed the state Constitution (Amendment 43) to state that marriage is only defined as one man and one woman. Senate Bill 88 is an attempt to run around the voter’s wishes and elevate same-sex couples to the status of married couples.

On the flip side, Boulder Pride distributed an action alert from Equal Rights Colorado (ERC), a gay-rights advocacy group. “Our opposition has already started to mobilize and they are incorrectly telling their senators that this is unconstitutional,” the alert warns. “It is not.”

An attorney who serves on the board of ERC disputed the constitutional argument against domestic-partner coverage in a December interview with The Colorado Independent.

“If there were any kind of constitutional cloud over this, it would have come up in other places,” Pat Steadman said. “This isn’t about marriage. No higher-ed governing board or city council can change that.”

Steadman pointed to the town of Durango’s recent adoption of same-sex benefits for city employees without any mention of Amendment 43 . “I’m aware of no challenge to any existing employee benefits package premised upon that question,” he said. “In fact, just the opposite — the frequency where the incidence of that benefit being offered is spreading.”

It’s an argument the group makes in its appeal for support:

… Already one-third of all states, 17 Colorado cities and five Colorado counties offer health insurance for their employees’ same-sex partners.

SB 88 would allow the State of Colorado to catch up, while reducing the number of uninsured and helping our state government recruit and retain talented workers.

SB 88 is an important bill and it needs our support.

In fact, at least 20 Colorado cities and four — or five, depending on how Denver is categorized — counties offer same-sex benefits coverage to employees, as The Colorado Independent reported last month.

Cities offering the coverage, according to data compiled by the Colorado Municipal League at the request of The Colorado Independent: Breckenridge, Denver, Golden, Littleton, Brighton, Boulder, Commerce City, Englewood, Glendale, Lafayette, Lakewood, Northglenn, Central City, Frisco, Gunnison, Brush, Wheat Ridge, Windsor, Aspen and Durango, which added the benefit in the fall.

Counties offering the benefit include Logan, Boulder, Pitkin and Summit. The Regional Transportation District (RTD) also offers the coverage.

The City of Aurora is in the midst of considering whether to add the coverage. At a meeting last week, the City Council put off discussion of the question until Feb. 23.

Here’s the full text of SB 88, CONCERNING THE EXTENSION OF STATE EMPLOYEE GROUP BENEFITS TO DOMESTIC PARTNERS OF STATE EMPLOYEES. A fiscal note prepared by legislative staff estimated the cost at $116,182 in the next fiscal year, based on a prediction that 0.2 percent of state employees would opt to add domestic-partner coverage. If approved, the law would take effect for benefits policies started or renewed after July 1, 2010.

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Ernest Luning

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