County may cut domestic-partner benefits

BY HOLLY HINES | JUNE 26, 2009 7:21 AM

Johnson County might stop offering its employees domestic-partner benefits, which have been in place since 1997, on July 1.

The county allows both married and domestic partners to receive access to the same health-care and dental insurance. It was originally intended to provide homosexual couples the same advantages married couples had, Lora Shramek, the county human-resources administrator, said. But with the legalization of same-sex marriage April 27, those couples can now marry, so separate benefits became moot, she said.

In light of the Iowa Supreme Court decision, domestic-partner benefits need to include all couples — or none — in order to ensure fairness for all employers, she said.

At the June 18 Johnson County Board of Supervisors meeting, Shramek recommended the county stop offering domestic-partner benefits, saying domestic couples are hit harder by taxes.

“There are advantages to being married,” Shramek said.

Only one employee is currently receiving the benefits, said Supervisor Terrence Neuzil. This person would be allowed to continue the benefit program.

The county’s original model was built on the UI’s — the state’s first established model for determining such benefits — Neuzil said.

The UI offers domestic-partner benefits for both same sex and heterosexual couples, said Richard Saunders, the UI senior associate director of Human Resources. And the university has no plans to change.

“Everybody has different reasons they might not want to get married,” Saunders said, citing religious and philosophical beliefs as possible considerations. “We felt it was important to give people a choice.”

Supervisor Rod Sullivan said he favored the UI’s take on the issue: leveling potential disparities by allowing everyone access to the benefits rather than taking those perks away.

“I’m very concerned about the availability of health care,” he said, and he tends to prefer offering “more insurance to more people.”

The county will probably follow Shramek’s recommendation, Neuzil said, though the supervisors have yet to set a time for making its decision on the proposed plan. The UI’s standards are unlikely to influence the county’s decision, because a model is no longer needed, Sullivan said.

Domestic-partner benefits would be offered again if the Supreme Court’s decision is eventually changed, Shramek said.

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