Irwin, Rutledge call ban on domestic partner benefits discriminatory and overreaching
State Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, says a pair of bills passed today by the Republican-controlled state House are discriminatory and erode the rights of cities, counties, schools and universities to offer domestic partner benefits to employees and their children.
"If this becomes law, we will have two employees working side by side with the same qualifications and experience and the employee living in a traditional family will receive significantly greater compensation," Irwin said. "That is clearly unfair and discriminatory."
House Bill 4770 prohibits public employers from providing health benefits to domestic partners of public employees, while HB 4771 excludes those benefits as a subject of collective bargaining. Both bills passed 64-44 along party lines and now head to the Senate.
Irwin said the proposed legislation is in direct conflict with constitutional provisions supporting local control and the autonomy of universities. If signed into law, Irwin and other Democrats warn the bills would be immediately challenged in court.
This isn't the first time this session that Republicans who control the Legislature have attempted to block the offering of taxpayer-paid health insurance to domestic partners living with public employees. Republicans supporting the bills say they reflect the will of Michigan voters who decided in 2004 to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
State Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, issued a statement today criticizing what he considered taxpayer-funded health care benefits for "roommates" of public employees.
"It is not the responsibility of taxpayers to support the roommates and unmarried partners of public employees," said Agema, who sponsored the legislation. "Providing benefits in this way is not the role of the state, especially when tax dollars are in short supply and there are critical programs being affected by the decrease in revenue."
Agema argued that Michigan voters, the state Supreme Court and the attorney general all agree with his legislation, and it's time to "respect the will of the people."
The Michigan Civil Service Commission has voted to allow domestic partner benefits for some state employees starting in October. Republicans tried to overturn the decision but couldn't get the two-thirds majority vote needed in the House.
State Rep. David Rutledge, D-Superior Township, called today's actions an overreach. He said no one disputes that offering health coverage to employees' domestic partners is a growing trend among world-class businesses across the country and internationally.
"I sincerely feel that this proposal demonstrates a lack of forward-thinking, and I urge the Senate and Gov. Snyder to reject the legislation," he added.
Irwin, who is concerned the legislation seeks to take away benefits from both the children and spouses of unmarried families, offered an amendment that would have tied the bill to his own legislation allowing second-parent adoption. The amendment was struck down by House Republicans before members had a chance to vote on it.
"If we're going to take benefits away from dependent children, I think it is important to provide a legal avenue for both parents to assert their parental rights and responsibilities," Irwin said.
"Despite the evidence that two-parent households result in better outcomes for children, my Republican colleagues were not willing to join my effort to enlist more willing adults in the responsibilities of parenthood," Irwin added.