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Posted on Tue, Mar 22, 2011 : 8:10 p.m.

Ann Arbor lawmaker fearful of where debate over domestic partner benefits in Lansing is headed

By Ryan J. Stanton

Democrats and Republicans in the state House clashed today over a resolution that aims to take away promised domestic partner benefits for state employees.

Those on the left saw it as an attack on collective bargaining and gay rights, while the GOP framed the issue as a matter of fiscal responsibility in tough economic times.

State Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, was at the center of the debate on the House floor, calling for a roll call vote on Senate Concurrent Resolution 9, which would rescind an increase in rates of compensation recommended by the Michigan Civil Service Commission.

The intention of the resolution, which Irwin opposes, is to eliminate an extension of health benefits to adults and their dependents living with but not related to state employees.

The resolution needs a two-thirds vote for approval, which it didn't get today. And so the measure remains in the House for further consideration after being postponed.


Jeff Irwin

"House Democrats are clearly out of touch with the economic realities of our state and the ongoing challenges of Michigan taxpayers," House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, said in a statement after the resolution failed to move forward.

Bolger criticized Democrats, saying despite the state facing a $1.4 billion deficit they chose to support a decision by the CSC to spend "millions of additional taxpayer dollars to provide health care benefits for roommates of state employees."

After today, Irwin said he fears Bolger may try engaging in "procedural shenanigans" to get the resolution through.

With 63 Republicans and 47 Democrats in the House, Irwin said the GOP needs 11 Democrats to join the majority to overturn the CSC's recommendations.

After his motion was accepted and a roll call vote was taken today, Irwin said it was clear that the GOP-backed resolution didn't have the two-thirds support it needed.

"When all the lights went up on the board, it was obvious they were far short of the votes they needed to pass this poor piece of legislation," Irwin said. "And so the speaker cleared the board and passed the issue off to a future date. They're going to try to gavel this through and pass it without taking a vote, probably because they don't have the votes."

Irwin said he's expecting Bolger to bring back the resolution, possibly later this week, and push it through with a voice vote and "tell the tale" that it was two-thirds.

"The rules of the House literally permit the majority to pass a resolution on a voice vote, and the speaker, the presiding officer, can literally declare the two-thirds despite the obvious evidence that the two-thirds is not there," Irwin said. "I think if the voters knew our rules enable these types of shenanigans, they would be appalled by that."

Bolger could not be reached for additional comment.

The CSC's decision to provide health care benefits to anyone who lives with a classified state employee, and their dependents, would cost taxpayers $11.4 million in the first year alone, Bolger said. He called it "irresponsible" to add those costs to state government at a time when most Michigan taxpayers are seeing cuts in their health care benefits.

According to an analysis by the Senate Fiscal Agency, there are about 32,000 state employees in four bargaining units who would qualify to add unrelated adults and their dependents to the state's health plan. Assuming the most costly scenario, for every 320 employees who enrolled in the plan, the estimated cost would be $5.66 million annually.

The CSC approved letters of understanding for the four bargaining units in December. The letters amend the state health plan to allow employees who don't have a spouse eligible for enrollment to enroll one other unrelated adult individual, and his or her dependents, provided the individual has lived with the state employee for a year.

Irwin said it would be a slap in the face to the state's collective bargaining process and "extremely disrespectful and unwise" to take away those promised benefits.

"This is an unprecedented thing they're talking about doing," he said, adding it could hurt Gov. Rick Snyder's chances of getting state employee groups to the table to negotiate. "It's not in our interest to treat our most valuable investment in a disrespectful way."

It's also an issue of equality, said Irwin, who sees it as an attack by conservative Republicans on the rights of homosexual couples who live together.

"I'm an unabashed supporter of the idea that we shouldn't be defining families in religious terms and people should be free to live the kind of lifestyle they want to live without government creating laws that disadvantage that type of lifestyle," he said. "It's not just about homosexual rights, it's also heterosexual couples that may not want to get married."

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 e-mail newsletters.


Dan Rubenstein

Sun, Mar 27, 2011 : 11:47 a.m.

Many critics here don't understand the issue. Ryan, you've sort of buried the lead: "The rules of the House literally permit the majority to pass a resolution on a voice vote, and the speaker, the presiding officer, can literally declare the two-thirds despite the obvious evidence that the two-thirds is not there." So this is not about Irwin overruling the will of the people. This is about the will of the people being subverted by house rules and their abuse by Republicans. Why was a 2/3 vote needed? Ryan, that really should have found its way into your story. The constitutional status of the CSC?

Martin Church

Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 4:22 p.m.

So Irwin is infavor of telling the voters in the state of Michigan your opinion does not matter. A few years ago we settled this with the definition of Marriage act. room mates are NOT spouses, If we continue with the CSC ruling then we should also be able to include our animals on the health plans. It is time to correct this injustice and will of the Michigan Voters. Repeal the opinion of the CSC.


Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 3:09 p.m.

So many of the current issues coming from the GOP are just tired, discriminatory policies dressed up as fiscal necessity. If the GOP wants to restrict partner benefits for heterosexual couples who are not married, I say more power to you! However, gay couples are not allowed to marry in this State, thanks to gay bashing from the Right, so they should be entitled to partner benefits.

Kent Jocque

Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 2:07 p.m.

A pragmatic approach would be to change the laws regarding marriage contracts. If we allow consenting adults to enter into legal marriage agreements regardless of gender we can once again limit benefits to married partners and their children instead of having to jump through hoops trying to define "the family."


Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 11:54 a.m.

Im a normally liberal democrat who has , to my own chagrin, sometimes found a degree of agreement with righter-wing types--, at least on foreign policy-- ,in recent years. But this reflexive anti-gay shtick of even the moderate republicans is repellant, whatever the presumed ( and bogus) economic rationale...and yes , there are plenty of non-public companies that commendably offer domestic partner same sex benefits, as should be done for any tax paying committed couple/citizen.


Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 11:31 a.m.

@Macabre: actually, you couldn't be more factually wrong. Domestic Partner benefits (not roommates - proven domestic partners) are part of the benefit packages in the private sector at a rate you clearly aren't aware of - they are VERY common. The majority of the fortune 500 companies ( larger majority every year including during this recession) offer domestic partner benefits. The vast majority of professional practices (doctors, lawyers, architects etc) offer domestic partner benefits as to most of the collective bargaining agreements with unions. This is a benefit that costs nearly nothing and the GOP games in this issue are nothing but bigoted. Attempts to cover it with "we're in this fiscal crisis" are just a show which becomes obvious by the nasty bigoted tone of the GOP's "roommates' PR. btw...there are two main differences between spousal benefits and domestic partner benefits is that the domestic partners have to prove they are partners with joint checking (something married couples don't have to have) and joint ownership of their residence (again, something married couples don't have to have). The other is that domestic partner coverage is treated as additional income for tax its MORE than equally paid for by the partners.

average joe

Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 11:39 a.m.

"This is a benefit that costs nearly nothing...." Really... Where do I sign up for this 'nearly nothing' benefit package. I bet many employers want to know this as well.


Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 11:11 a.m.

I fully support gay marriage, that being said the present system is being abused. I know of many workers at UM who have helped out friends (not gay partners) by saying that they were "partners" so they would be covered. Maybe the rules have changed in the last five years.


Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 5:43 p.m.

It is anecdotal, but real and personal. I know them and I know what they did..

Audion Man

Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 12:15 p.m.

Again... a unverifiable, convenient, anecdotal "friend" to help make a point. Well, I have two unverifiable, convenient, anecdotal "friends" who don't game the domestic partner benefits system. Hmmm, I think that argument is just as worthless.


Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 10:59 a.m.

@joe hood Political issues are social issues and vice-versa. Cutting funds for State Libraries is a social issue, environmental issues like clean water are social issues, anti-discrimination laws are political issues, etc.


Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 10:35 a.m.

I found clauses in UAW contracts, this one is typical: Same-Sex Domestic Partner Benefits Full-time employees may enroll their same-sex domestic partner and the partner's IRS dependent children in hospitalization and medical benefits. Same-sex domestic partners are defined as two (2) individuals of the same gender: -Who are both eighteen (18) years or older and, -Who have resided together continuously for at least six (6) months, and -Who intend to reside together indefinitely, and -Who are not related by blood, and -Who have agreed to be jointly responsible for each other's welfare, and -Who share financial obligations, and -Who are not involved in any other domestic partnership or marriage. In order to obtain benefits for a same-sex domestic partner, an enrollment form and an affidavit attesting that the above conditions have been met must be completed. The employee will be responsible for paying the illustrative premium rate amount which is the difference between a single plan and a two person plan. Said payment may be made through payroll deduction.


Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 12:37 p.m.

Average joe, It is called marriage.

average joe

Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 11:06 a.m.

Thanks B- Do you know of any benefits for heterosexual domestic partner arrangements?

average joe

Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 9:32 a.m.

Just curious- Does the UAW offer these same benefits to domestic partners of it's members? Im just trying to make comparisons, & would like to know.


Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 6:47 p.m.

They did before I retired in 2007. You had to prove that you were in a domestic relationship.

L. C. Burgundy

Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 5:13 a.m.

Maybe the state government should not be in the business of handing out benefit freebies and instead offer them at cost. But silly me, what am I saying. MOAR COLLECTIVE BARGAININGS!

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 4:39 a.m.

While normally I will side with those who support gay rights, in the private sector, where most of us work, roommates do not receive medical benefits. And spouses only receive the option to pay to join a plan, not freebies. Now if the argument is whether gay people should have the right to marry, I'm all for it.


Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 7:50 a.m.

However in a gay relationship, partners often think of each other as spouses, whether the State will recognize it legally yet or not, so the term "roommates " is offensive to couples that have been monogomous for yrs. Spousal equivalents should have the same option of "buying in" as you say

Joe Hood

Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 2:27 a.m.

I'm sorry but I hope our rep is doing something beyond pushing social issues in Lansing.


Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 4:11 a.m.

He's also done work on immigration issues: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> meetings re: the budget: <a href=""></a> protecting collective bargaining: <a href=""></a> Elder abuse: <a href=""></a> Maybe you're only seeing what you want to see?

Joe Hood

Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 3:50 a.m.

@MisterAngryBear: But this is all I hear about this guy. At this point he is defined by this one issue. There must be something else going on in Lansing. In a year when the results of decisions are flowing from Lansing, will there be any meaningful input from the citizens of Ann Arbor?


Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 3:15 a.m.

I would think that making sure all citizens enjoy equal access to the rights and benefits of living in this state is an important part of his job description.

Monica R-W

Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 2:19 a.m.

@Representative Irwin. Thanks for the job that you continue to do. Rep. Bolger should remember that in about three months, he along with Gov. Snyder can be recalled. The 'safe haven' period will be over July 1, 2011. He would be smart to remember this if he tries to push via voice vote over a 2/3rd majority, of this measure. Learn the details: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 1:53 a.m.

Looks like &quot;collective bargaining&quot; is a &quot;slap in the face&quot; to taxpayers. Who is this civil sevice commission to be making these kinds of commitments to unions and calling it &quot;negotiations&quot;. Talk about &quot;shenanigans&quot;. If we're going to start changing laws, let's eliminate collective bargaining and put all public workers on the same equal ground as most other working class folks.


Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 2:25 a.m.

Should read &quot;more private sector workers.&quot; My bad.


Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 2:24 a.m.

Ah, the &quot;race to the bottom&quot; argument. Better idea -- let's try to get more private sectors unionized so that they can get a better deal for themselves.


Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 1:33 a.m.

Jeff, make an amendment tot he bill to get rid of benefits for the all of Michigan's legislature, both current and the ones you all will colect after your terms, and put that up for a vote.


Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 1:55 a.m.

Let's also cut benefits for all spouses and children. If we &quot;can't afford&quot; benefits for domestic partners, we'll save even more money by cutting them for spouses and children. As treetowncartel suggests, let's cut legislators benefits which are locked in after 6 years...for life! Insane. It's costing Michigan too much money that we can't afford. Let's appoint an Emergency Financial Manager to nullify the contracts made for lifetime healthcare.

David Briegel

Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 1:06 a.m.

I am thankful that Jeff Irwin is on the job and representing us in such a determined manner. The majority has an end justifies the means mentality. Thanks Jeff for your sanity in these insane times!