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Posted on Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 11:43 a.m.

Ann Arbor officials plan to look for way around new domestic partner benefits ban

By Ryan J. Stanton

Local government officials are reacting with dismay following the enactment of a state ban on domestic partner benefits for public employees in Michigan.

The partners of at least 21 employees in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County government stand to lose their health insurance coverage now that Gov. Rick Snyder has signed the ban.

"This thing is just an embarrassment," said County Board Chairman Conan Smith, D-Ann Arbor. "I'm so sad for Michigan today because of this."


John Hieftje

Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber said the city of Ypsilanti hasn't yet determined the impact. But in Ann Arbor, a handful of city employees stand to lose their benefits now.

Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said city officials will be looking to see if there's any "wiggle room" in the law that might allow the city to continue providing domestic partner benefits.

"I certainly would like to maintain benefits for all of our employees," he said. "I think it's not in the interests of Ann Arbor or even the state of Michigan to exclude people from benefits that are available to other employees. And it's certainly going to hurt the city."

The state's 2004 constitutional ban on same-sex marriage has been ruled to ban public entities from providing health insurance to the gay and lesbian partners of their employees. Some government entities, including Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, have tried to work around the ban with live-in language that omits any reference to a same-sex relationship.

City Administrator Steve Powers said the city of Ann Arbor has been offering domestic partner benefits as long as the employee and "other qualified adult" have lived together for 18 months. He said 12 adults currently receive such coverage from the city.

The county's policy is similar. County Administrator Verna McDaniel said the county provides domestic partner benefits to nine "other eligible adults" right now.

Snyder's signing of the controversial legislation has spurred criticism from Democrats and liberal groups that consider the legislation an attack on gays and lesbians. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has vowed to challenge the law in court.

It is unclear whether the bill applies to state universities, although Snyder asserts that it does not. House Republicans, meanwhile, say it does apply to university employees.

Most political insiders are expecting the issue to be decided in the courts. State Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, the bill sponsor, maintains that universities aren't above the law.

According to other news reports, Gary Glenn, an anti-gay activist who is running for the U.S. Senate as a Republican, is calling for a formal attorney general opinion on the issue.

Snyder maintains his signing of the ban is a continuation of his efforts to help address "the spiraling costs of health care and other post-retirement benefits."

The ban has been strongly opposed by the Ann Arbor City Council, Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce, University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University.

"We've been looking at the law as it came out of the Legislature, and we passed a resolution against it," Hieftje said. "Now that it's final, we'll be taking a deeper look."

Even though the law doesn't apply to private employers, Hieftje said he thinks it's going to hurt businesses in Michigan.

"It still sends a message that our state is excluding people from partnership benefits," he said. "I just think it's going to hurt Michigan. We're going the opposite direction for a state that really needs to rebuild its economy. It's a step backwards."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Fri, Dec 30, 2011 : 6:18 p.m.

@snapshot... Wow! Can you be anymore hateful towards unions and public employees? I suggest you read the story above again. NO WHERE does it say ANYTHING about unions in the story. Unions never asked for that. That's a decision that came from the city. Nor do any contracts say anything about it. The only mention of unions is from YOU. Go figure. It's always the same old thing from you. At least your consistent if nothing else.


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 4:26 a.m.

Ann Arbor should recede from the union.....but then all those federal dollars would disappear.


Wed, Dec 28, 2011 : 3:59 a.m.

The liberal assignment of of wages and benefits with no fiscal restraint is out of control. While some liberals call this an attack is beyond me when every union contract has specific "discrimination" language and procedures for handling legitimate discrimination situations. Why isn't the liberal assignment of benefits and wages not considered an abuse of public union influence? That's how I see the situation. I think Snyder is just trying to rein in the out of control "feel good" spending of taxpayer monies in an already stressed and under funded situation.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 6:54 p.m.

Gotta love it, when the "morality police" lie and deliberately mislead people in trying to come up with excuses for why punitive, religion-based legislation like this is not blatantly unconstitutional and mean-spirited. To start with, we're talking about big, central government seizing the local control that they claim to cherish, and telling other communities how to spend their own money; it won't save the state even one penny if Ann Arbor does away with these benefits. Secondly, the figures they're using- which are pocketchange, in relation to the overall state budget- presuppose that all of those that will lose their family insurance benefits will remain in their positions; as this is unlikely to be the case, you must offset those "savings" with added costs for recruiting and training replacements, and the likelihood that many of them will be replaced with married workers with kids. Best case scenario, it'll be a wash, with the added bonus of forever decreasing the available pool of qualified candidates for these positions and making the state look less attractive to the 3/4 of large private employers that demonstrate that they value all of their employees by offering domestic partner benefits. Which makes such legislation even more precious, since these are the same folks that want to run government like a business, and the business community has spoken loud and clear on this, and is getting tired of the added tax complications and burden the party that favors lower taxes and a simplified tax code is placing on them. Though on the plus side, as states like Michigan keep passing more and more laws like this that are blatant violations of both the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, the harder it becomes for the Supreme Court to dodge the issue; at some point they'll strike down DOMA and the patchwork of laws that overtly single out and discriminate based on sexual orientation.


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 4:20 a.m.

Get real, t food stamps and public assistance has been reduced, raised the age of retirement for social security to 66 year of age, what make you think that these public benefits are nothing more than "welfare".


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 5:19 p.m.

" a handful of city employees stand to lose their benefits now" Is this a typo? It's not the employees losing benefits, right?


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 2:04 p.m.

If this were just about cutting costs as the Slickster claims, then he would sign a law banning extending benefits for all, only insuring the employee. Oh, wait, that would be mean and hurt even MORE Michigan families, not just those he doesn't approve of. Legal marriage as we know it is on the decline as a useless institution and is a leftover dinosaur from history. Likewise US government and education are dinosaurs from the Industrial Age and need to change with the times. While, yes, some opposite-gendered couples do have the option of legal marriage, over half these days are choosing not to. Many (male as well as female) are choosing to have children without it. It's not necessary. Wake up, People, and get with the new century. Either insure everyone or no one. In the not too distant future marriage and health care will be available to everyone regardless of gender. Eventually it will be decided based on the wording of our Fourteenth Amendment (equal access to ALL). So pick: you want to waste your money fighting this now or later? Those of you who don't like same gender marriages, don't have one. But it is coming, so get used to it. Just because you don't believe in something doesn't make it true; likewise just because you believe in something, that doesn't make it true, either. As far as the city looking for a way around it, hooray! You can't stop WE the people from doing what we want. It didn't work during Prohibition. How did that work out? How are the billions spent on the so called war on drugs working out? Most people believe in fair and equal treatment and that's what we are going to get, one way or another whether some of you approve or not. We don't need your approval! Thank you, City of Ann Arbor for having common sense on this and looking into doing the right thing, not cave in to the wrong and mean.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 5:43 p.m.

Yes Rob, that's also why everyday all day long all you see and hear on TV is call this attorney, call this attorney, you don't agree? Sue them, sue everyone. That's the answer anymore, sue sue sue. I'm not at all surprised that is your response. That seems to always be the response of the few who don't agree with the majority.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 5:04 p.m.

And that's why State and Federal courts exist, along with very good and expensive lawyers that will cost the State much more than the benefits they were supposedly banning to save money.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 2:43 p.m.

Yea, and that's why they call it 26 sq miles surrounded by reality.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 1:18 p.m.

It's nice to know that it is now ok to find a way around a law that you do not agree with. I look forward to hizzoner's fully understanding why I reduce my tax payments to the city by the 1% that he and his minions funnel off to "public art." It seems to me that hizzoner and the rest of the squealing mass do not respect the rule of law and democracy. The law passed, which makes it the law. That's how democracy works.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 5:01 p.m.

Doug, you have taught those 4th graders well then if they understand our democracy and basic rights in response to discriminatory laws. Kudos to you. LoL.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 3:23 p.m.

Rob, Your response is something I would expect from my 4th graders.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 2:44 p.m.

Nice to know. If you don't like the Mayors eventual response, feel free to move. It's a democracy as you say.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 12:56 p.m.

How much money is this going to save? How about if we ban all "partner" benefits, including spouses? If it is about saving money, why let a spouse (who does no work for municipalities) get free insurance? What about free-loading kids? Nobody tells people to have kids, it is a "choice", let the workers pick that up out of their own pocket, right. How much would that save the tax payers? Why do the "less government" folks need to see a document from a government agency to insure somebody? Should they not want to see "less government" interference in lives?


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 4:31 a.m.

yeah, duh


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 4:25 a.m.

So if I am a City of Ann Arbor employee who is a heterosexual, single male and have lived with my girl friend for over 18 months....then she can be covered under my health benefits?


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 1:41 p.m.

Johnnya2 - there could easily be some politicians that are using this issue because their homophobic. I support gay marriage, but this could be a dangerous precedent that could be full of fraud and abuse. When the city evaluates the "specific criteria" it would be completely subjective by who says yes their covered or no they are not covered. And "the anticipation of continued sharing of a life together" can anyone outside that relationship measure if that is true or not. I can see this an important issue for you because of the defensive position you've taken. It's also clear that you are intolerant towards everyone on the right because you've painted the governor and every republican with the same brushstroke. Was this a "direct attack on gay people" or just the elimination of a bad situation that could wrought with abuse.

Basic Bob

Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 12:52 p.m.

@johnnya2, This is only a direct attack on single adults who feel entitled to the same benefits as working people who have a family to support. This benefit derived from the time when most working people were men with stay-at-home wives and children. If two adults want to live together or have a relationship, that's wonderful. If they both want insurance, they should both get jobs with benefits or pay their own, just like any other adult. They don't qualify for a financial handout.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 8:27 a.m.

Until Rick Snyder and the republican loons came along YES. There are very specific criteria though. Living together, sharing expenses, the anticipation of continued haring of a life together. This is not a roomate situation. Of course a hetero couple could now get married and guess what, those savings go away. So lets be clear, this was direct attack on gay people.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 2:57 a.m.

&quot;The ban has been strongly opposed by the ... Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners&quot; <a href=""></a> &quot;The county board voted 9-2 Wednesday night to go on record opposing House Bills 4770 ...&quot; Wouldn't &quot;strongly opposed&quot; have been a unanimous vote?


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 2:41 p.m.

No, that would have been unanimously opposed. LoL.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 2:08 a.m.

Bigotry, hatred, intolerance. Ganging up on people in the minority.... This is an obscene act by members of our government, and just in time for Christmas. With this kind of behavior from our governor, how can educated, bright, tolerant young people seriously consider our area as a safe place to raise children?


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 1:35 a.m.

I've seen this term twice in two separate articles this week...can anyone define how the City of Ann Arbor defines what an &quot;other qualified adult&quot; is?


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 12:17 a.m.

Sems ironic to me. For those of you who hate the EM law, this law was passed to correct a ruling by the unelected civil service commission, that in spite of a constitutional admendment against domestic partner benefits, the Civil Service Commission mandaded the coverage anyway.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 2:39 p.m.

Given the CSC has Constitutional control over state employee benefit decisions, this is another basis for litigation. The Constitution also gives local governments autonomy in certain areas. This law is certain to raise extensive legal challenges in the State and failing that in the Federal Courts via the 14th Amendment preventing animus against groups and also via the entire DOMA currently being litigated at the appeals level.

John Q

Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 2:16 a.m.

Wrong. The law doesn't do anything to change the ruling by the CSC.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 11:54 p.m.

The passage of this bill was necesary in keeping with the Governor's pledge that JOBS was his top priority. Now some former Michigan jobs will be created in other states.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 10:49 p.m.

Who the heck is Gary Glenn? Don't call him a Republican, no real Republican would follow him, like no real Democrat would follow some of the liberal loonies out there.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 10:04 p.m. praised the attack on municipal employees wages and health care because you all called it too cadillac. Seemed to think it was way too much. You've criticized their retirement packages stating they're living the great life off all your poor paid taxes. are mad at him for doing this. I would think from a pure money saving point you all would be happy as ever but it cuts too close into Ann Arbors lifestyle and &quot;we accept all&quot; attitude including illegals and homeless umpteen social programs. Praise him one day, want to skin him the next. When you all going to realize, he's a business man plain and simple. His job is to reduce costs and make this state functional again. You should be happy, just think its that much less money you will have to fork out of your hard earned paychecks.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 9:50 p.m.

How festive to watch all the fall out and democratic dandruff fill up bubbleville and turn it into a snow globe right in time for Christmas...

Kai Petainen

Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 8:40 p.m.

ok. i think this idea of autonomy is making more sense to me. I did not know that: &quot;In 1850, the University of Michigan was granted constitutional autonomy, making it the first institution in the country to be accorded such status. This was primarily the result of many years of political interference in the operation of the university, including legislative and gubernatorial involvement in the selection and removal of the faculty. Michigan's language regarding constitutional autonomy, which can be found in all four state constitutions, is designed to keep the Legislature from getting involved in areas considered to be the domain of the faculty and university administration. &quot; <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> And thankfully, the President just reinforced how employees are protected: &quot;Yesterday Governor Snyder signed legislation that prevents some public employers from offering medical benefits to the domestic partners of public employees, but in doing so he said that university employees are exempt. Based on our analysis, as well as the governor's regarding the state universities' constitutional autonomy, we believe we may continue to provide benefits to other qualified adults in full compliance with the law and will do so. As you know, we expressed our deep concern regarding House Bill 4770 in a letter to the Legislature last month, and we urged a veto when the bill passed. We know that the competitiveness of our state and our university depends on our ability to attract and retain the very best talent. We were heartened by the strong voices of many business leaders in this state who concur, and together we will work hard to contribute to a vibrant economy and high quality of life for all members of our community.&quot;


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 8:06 p.m.

I would support a recall attempt against &quot;Pay up Conan&quot; Smith. I am happy attempts were made to recall Becky. I would also like to see a candidate fielded against him in the Democratic primary in 2012. If heavyweights like Leigh Greden and Steve Rapundalo got bounced, surely Conan is vulnerable.

David Briegel

Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 9:25 p.m.

Ahh, tense &quot;holidays&quot; amongst friends!

Susie Q

Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 7:30 p.m.

Contrary to Gov Snyder's comment that this will help with the spiraling costs of health care, this isn't about cost at all and folks like Dave Agema tell it like it is. This is about making sure gay people remain second class citizens in Michigan. This is about bigotry, plain and simple. Shame on you Republicans that voted for this and on Gov for signing it.

David Briegel

Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 6:59 p.m.

Michissippi, relentless regressive action, moving Michissippi backwards! Thank You Rick, may your holidays be as dim as your party!

Kai Petainen

Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 6:35 p.m.

i'm not a lawyer... but if universities can reject a law because of 'constitutional autonomy', then can't they reject a lot of laws? this case... if universities are not required to be involved -- seems to me, that it can open the door for ignoring a bunch of other laws.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 8:21 a.m.

When the judge says the law is unconstitutional, then the law would be thrown out like any other unconstitutional law. It really isnt that hard. The state of Michigan constitution guarantees the University autonomy in ALL its hiring practices. The state can not come in and say we do not like a professor, the president, or the football coach. It is essentially a private organization when it comes to these decisions. The law does not stop private organizations (such as the one I work for) from giving any benefits they deem appropriate to keep employees happy. The right wing nut jobs sold this on saving money. I suggest the REAL expense is paying for employees children and spouses. Why should they receive the benefits? Let the souse not employed by the state go get their own insurance. Then we will see how quickly this state has nobody left.

Kai Petainen

Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 8:12 p.m.

gyre... thanks. but, what if the next governor decides that it does not fall under that definition? or some judge? lawyer?


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 7:07 p.m.

The universities are not ignoring the law, there has been a determination that the law is not applicable to university employees. The law affects a group of people whom are specifically identified in the law, that is &quot;public employees&quot;. The governor is saying that the university employees do not fall underneath that definition.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 6:03 p.m.

There is nothing purposeful about this bill. Simply vindictive.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 10:08 p.m.

Bad it may be, but not vindictive (having or showing a strong or unreasoning desire for revenge). Revenge does not enter into it. Agree with them or not, some would call it moral. I'm not saying my opinion, but at least criticize it more logically.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 5:56 p.m.

I have a &quot;tip&quot; from an insider close to Republicans aka Job Creators in Lansing. In 2012 the &quot;Job Creator&quot; party in this State is looking to repeal MLK Jr Day as an official State holiday. Once they are successful with that they are then going to declare womens suffrage as unconstitutional. The &quot;Jobs Creators&quot; new motto is, &quot;if it was good enough in 1812 then its good enough in 2012&quot;.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 5:47 p.m.

A disgusting step backwards. Today I'm ashamed and embarrassed to live in Michigan.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 3:17 p.m.

You have two choices: stay and help fight the law or move to another state.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 8:28 p.m.

The states that have these kiinds of laws are going broke and raising taxes; they would be glad to have your tax dollars and there are no travel restrictions


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 5:58 p.m.


Alan Goldsmith

Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 5:39 p.m.

&quot;This thing is just an embarrassment,&quot; said County Board Chairman Conan Smith, D-Ann Arbor. &quot;I'm so sad for Michigan today because of this.&quot; Likewise, it was just an embarrassment in November 2010 when some local Dems sat out the election with their lack of support for the Democratic candidate for Governor because their mom wasn't on the ticket. It's also an embarrassment when local Dems praise the Governor for his anti-democratic emergency manager push. It's an embarrassment when local Dems suck up and are available for Rick Snyder photo ops. It's an embarrassment when local Dems owe the County taxpayers money for misspent expense payments. Look in the mirror Mr. Smith.

Monica R-W

Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 9:44 p.m.

High Five ALAN!! High five and totally truthful!


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 8:01 p.m.

@Alan Goldsmith: &quot;Look in the mirror, Mr. Smith.&quot; I agree 100%. The political dynasty that propelled &quot;Pay up Conan&quot; Smith and his wife, Becky, to the political stratosphere has quite a bit to be embarrassed about by these two characters' recent performance as officeholders. &quot;A heritage cannot be transmitted, it must be conquered.&quot; - French author Andre Malraux.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 5:28 p.m.

&quot;This thing is just an embarassment...&quot; -Conan Smith. What thing, your tenure as Chairman?


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 12:48 p.m.

Run for his office, that'll show him! Or whine, it is easier.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 8:07 p.m.

Applause, applause!


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 5:15 p.m.

Not commenting on right or wrong, but how can snyder pass a law that excludes universities but no other public entity?


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 7:27 p.m.

What Ryan fails to state is that the Michigan Constitution has since 1850 held that Michigan's Public Universities have autonomy to manage their affairs through their duly elected Regents. This right has been upheld through our Attorney Generals, Michigan Appeals Courts, and the Michigan Supreme Court repeatedly. Expect very expensive litigation to result as lawsuits go through the State's court system and possibly the Federal Court system as the US 14th Amendment also holds that animus against particular groups is illegal and has proven successful in similar cases, and of course the issue of same-sex marriage is currently being litigated in US Appeals Courts now with anticipated appeals to the Supreme Court of the US. Michigan is in for a very expensive time on this foolish decision.

Ryan J. Stanton

Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 5:42 p.m.

You can read the law for yourself here: <a href="" rel='nofollow'>;objectName=2011-HB-4770</a> It doesn't expressly exempt universities, but the argument being used by Snyder and others is that universities have constitutional autonomy. But some argue against that, and that's probably going to be hashed out in court now. From the act: (b) "Public employee" means a person holding a position by appointment or employment in the government of this state; in the government of 1 or more of the political subdivisions of this state; in the public school service; in a public or special district; in the service of an authority, commission, or board of this state or a political subdivision of this state; or in any other branch of the public service.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 5:01 p.m.

The best thing that Ann Arbor could do is wait for the ACLU to file their lawsuit - probably just a few weeks and then band with like communities and ask for an injunction while the hearings are on going. That way they could keep the benefits going without having to be the lone ranger in a lawsuit. Be wise with the taxpayer funds for a change.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 7:21 p.m.

Joe Kidd - I am not a lawyer, and I do not play one on TV. All I know is the ACLU has said they will file suit against this law. Given they will, going for an injunction with other communities after it is filed is the low cost, easy route.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 8:14 a.m.

On what basis? Ok I will give you multtiple reasons: The 14th amendment to the US constituion. It supercedes any law invoked by the state of Michigan. The prop 8 will come before the SCOTUS before the end of 2013 There is also the fact that people signed LEGALLY BINDING CONTRACTS. An employer can not unilaterally change a contract. many people accepted positions or salaries based on the premise that they had these benefits for their significant others. You can say it is not bigotry all you want, but a law aimed at denying gay people equal rights is bigotry in and of itself. It would be like saying banning interracial marriage is ok just because 42 other states do it. Any single argument that is made against marriage equality can be made for interracial OR interfaith marriage.

Joe Kidd

Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 1:54 a.m.

On what basis could they sue? Discrimination? How would you prove that. Just because people cite &quot;bigotry&quot; that does not make it true. That is an opinion. Also if the state gave it, can they not take it away? According to Lambda Legal, only eight states allow equal benefits (as of 7/2010). So Michigan is not alone among many states with similar regulations. In re to the three major universities that are cited in the Michigan Constitution with some autonomy, the Governor should have sent the bill back to clarify that position. Per a Detroit Free Press article he favored the bill that excluded the universities. It would have been better to clarify. If the legislature refused, then maybe this bill would have been vetoed.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 4:59 p.m.

hope they fail :)


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 2:23 p.m.

Yes, it must make you so happy and proud to see people, including children, suffer as they lose their health benefits 3 days before Christmas because of a hateful, discriminatory attempt to impose radical right-wing morals on tax paying citizens? Hippity hop.

hut hut

Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 6:52 p.m.