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Posted on Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 1:41 p.m.

Ambiguously worded domestic partner benefits ban 'remains a serious concern' for some officials

By Kellie Woodhouse

Politicians and affected parties say its unclear whether an amended domestic partner benefits ban in Michigan will extend to public universities.


State Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, and his wife Barb.

Booth file photo

House Bill 4770 was passed by the state Senate on Wednesday, where it was also amended to omit language that would have it apply to employees of public universities. The Michigan House passed the amended bill Thursday, but several Republican representatives said the bill would continue to apply to universities.

The bill seeks to forbid public employers in Michigan from offering health care benefits to domestic partners and their partners' children. It has been heavily criticized by education advocates, and the Senate reworded the bill in an attempt to assuage opponents.

Yet Republican lawmakers in the House contend that the amended law defines public employees through Michigan's Public Employees Relations Act, which includes employees of universities. The amended bill says it applies to employees at state and local governments and boards, public schools and “any other branch of the public service.”

Higher education proponents contend public universities have power through the Michigan Constitution to determine their own policies through separate governing bodies, such as boards of regents or trustees.

"There's some confusion out there about whether universities are going to be included or not," State Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, said yesterday. "The Senate thinks no. The House thinks yes."

Irwin voted against the bill.

The bill's sponsor State Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, did not respond to a request for comment.

Sara Wurfel, Gov. Rick Snyder's press secretary, has said the administration believes the bill does not apply to universities.

Wurfel told the Grand Rapids Press that Snyder would sign the bill only if he is certain it excludes public universities.

Cynthia Wilbanks, U-M's vice president for government relations, said the university remains unclear about the impact of the amended legislation.

"It is noteworthy that the amended version of the legislation removes any reference to state universities as being within the scope of the legislation," she said in an e-mail. "Nonetheless, there seems to be some difference of opinion about whether the approved legislation applies directly to state universities.

"That remains a serious concern," she continued.

Scott Dennis, a University of Michigan librarian, said he was at first "greatly relived" by the amended version, but has grown more concerned as the House continues to assert that university employees will be affected.

"I'm a little bit less relieved now," he said. "It could be argued in court that universities are included, although they're not explicitly included."

Dennis, who has worked at U-M for 14 years, extends his university benefits to his live-in partner.

"It's still better that it not definitely include universities," Dennis said. "But I'm afraid that it could still end up in the courts and it could still be uncertain how it will resolve."

Eastern Michigan University Director of Government Relations Leigh Greden, a former Ann Arbor City Council member, said EMU is "pleased that the Senate and the governor clearly intended to exclude universities from this legislation," but added that he remains apprehensive about the issue.

"I’m concerned that the issue may resurface in the future," he said. "Individuals and organizations who oppose this legislation should continue watching this issue."

On his Facebook page, Irwin warned that the ambiguously worded bill could lead to a "long court battle."

"The bad news is that this court battle is likely to cost us all more than providing the benefits," he said.

This story is being updated.

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.


James Etzkorn

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 4:34 p.m.

As someone who knows Scott Dennis, quoted in the article, I want to point out that the reporter did not perhaps have room to print all of his comments. He expressed disgust with the legislative strategy of divide and conquer--saving benefits for university employees but outlawing them for others. Whether or not university employees are exempted, Scott and I both know this bill is very wrong!


Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 3:41 p.m.

I recall this unambiguous wording from the Ten Commandment crowd a few years ago: "We will deny marriage to homosexuals, but we are not going to go after domestic partner benefits."

Bruce Frier

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 3 a.m.

Gay employees usually avoid domestic partner benefits if they can, since (unlike benefits for married spouses) they are taxed. But if the domestic partner is unable to work, or has a job without health benefits, there may be no choice. The same is true for opposite-sex couples, of course, but they have the option of marriage.


Sun, Dec 11, 2011 : 3:48 a.m.

Just as the spouses can. Are you suggesting the State cancel health coverage for all married spouses as well?

Basic Bob

Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 11:07 p.m.

Are the partners somehow prevented from pursuing and accepting their own gainful employment with benefits? Maybe they can both get jobs at the U, everybody wins.


Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 1:21 p.m.

Something I find interesting is most people are complaining public employees have it too good, Pension, Decent Wages, Decent Medical coverage but mention the fact that in order to cut the budgets they are trying to eliminate domestic partner benefits or like the city calls it Other Qualifying Adult (Same sex or Opposite sex). Then all of a sudden they are homophobic, evil uncaring individuals. But we can elimate retiree health care and every one praises them. Now where in the private sector do they cover Other Qualifying Adults. Some places are even eliminating coverage for married couples. No I will brace for the attacks and board my windows and wait for the stone throwing.


Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 5:35 p.m.

Actually, more than 60% of the Fortune 500 companies offer domestic partner coverage to their employees as a business imperative, to bring the best and brightest to the firms. And yet, Michigan is racing to the bottom trying to push public same sex employees away, along with decreasing education, the safety net, increasing income taxes, etc. etc. Michississippi of the North is here, but litigation will result for years.


Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 3:20 p.m.

Lots of private companies, including about 100 of the Fortune 500 companies, offer benefits to same sex partners. Watch out for stone facts coming through your window, they may break a pane of ignorance.


Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 12:22 p.m.

It should be for everyone or no one. Working for the university should not entitle you to benefits for live in partners at the expense of the public if the public is not entitled to those same benefits. I for one am tired of my tax money going to expenses I am not able to access. Wake up ! Stop making this a fight about sexual preference and call it what it is, abuse of our tax dollars.


Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 5:36 p.m.

Except same sex partners can not marry in Michigan. So why should same sex partner tax dollars support the straight sexual preference with their tax dollars? I think that is abusive from their perspective.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 1:04 a.m.

The bill's sponsor State Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grand Rapids, did not respond to a request for comment. ----- I think that picture is response enough. I look at those two and the laugh-a-thon they have going, and even without a topic under consideration, I just want to....want to.....want to.....Well, forget what I want. I want my comments printed and not censored, so I won't finish my comment. Nasty, nasty, nasty.


Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 12:48 a.m.

All Gov. Snyder has to do is to tell the legislature that the bill needs to be amended so it explicitly excludes university employees, or he will veto it. If they call his bluff and he vetoes it, the issue will either die or the legislature could resubmit an amended bill with the explicit exclusion Gov. Snyder insisted upon in the first place. Given the current ambiguity about the exclusion of university employees from this bill, that matter should be made explicit, rather than trying to figure out if the bill excludes university employees or not in its current form. If it is not crystal clear that it does or does not, it certainly will end up in the courts with the attendant expenses and ongoing uncertainty until (perhaps) the MI Supreme Court rules on the matter. An ounce of prevention....

Tony Livingston

Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 12:24 a.m.

Wow. He and his wife are all excited and happy. Pretty insulting.


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 11:04 p.m.

No update on the mass exodus? I remember how that worked out for the air traffic controllers.

Bruce Frier

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 3:04 a.m.

I don't know about mass exodus, but a fair number of people are apparently looking to leave, if they can find better jobs. Two have already left my department, and another one will probably go. A friend of mine (straight), an extremely eminent scholar, told me last week that she would never have left California for Michigan if she had known what was going to happen. Actions have consequences, as they say.

City Confidential

Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 10:39 p.m.

Glad that all the University folks are pleased and relieved, but what about the rest of the state employees who didn't get saved by the Universities' advocacy?

David Briegel

Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 2:36 a.m.

And millions do have sane thoughts!

David Briegel

Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 1:56 a.m.

That is a despicable reply. The truth is that the only people pouring salt in wounds are those "saintly" TeaPublicons who care only for the 1% and to heck with the rest of society!

Michigan Man

Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 10:59 p.m.

Many university elites have little benevolence toward others - this answers your question - Once academics secure their own future - precious little attention if directed toward others - Just like the 1%.


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 10:24 p.m.

"Sara Wurfel, Gov. Rick Snyder's press secretary, has said the administration believes the bill does not apply to universities. Wurfel told the Grand Rapids Press that Snyder would sign the bill only if he is certain it excludes public universities." Isn't anyone going to badmouth the Gov. about this?

Billy Bob Schwartz

Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 1:11 a.m.

Not me. 2 for a thousand isn't good odds, but at least he hit it right twice.

David Briegel

Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 9:46 p.m.

The only thing missing is their stairway to heaven. Or is it their fiddle and a backdrop of Rome burning?


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 9:59 p.m.

nice to be on the same side for once.


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 9:29 p.m.

Aren't they a lovely couple? Right out of "Leave It To Beaver". It's too bad representative Agema is a homophobe. This public servant, who agreed to speak at a Terry Jones(of Koran burning fame) event in Washington, D.C., doesn't consider loving couples that raise children together as real families. They don't fit into his narrow view. A sad excuse for a self-proclaimed Christian.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 1:10 a.m.

Please leave Ward and June alone. They actually raised their kids, a step up from many today. Besides, these two look more like um uh um uh....never mind. I don't want to get censored. Anyhow, June and Ward were a product of their time. Who are these people in this article, and from what century?

Julie Lavrack Stetten

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

Shameful for that public servant, State Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grand Rapids, and his wife Barb., to be laughing in a photo while he is taking health care away from children of Gay and Lesbian families--how evil, hateful, and damaging. Criminal to spend time of hatefulness when our state needs full-time focus on our economy and job creation. Maybe he thinks if Gays and Lesbians lose public benefits they will all leave the state, and that will be job creation! Idiot!

Bruce Frier

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 3:10 a.m.

In point of fact, Michigan law does not permit adoption by two unmarried persons, so the natural or adopted children of domestic partners will not be covered if this bill becomes law. Nearly 50 children of UM domestic partners will lose their insurance.


Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 5:29 p.m.

Shameful for who? You do understand that's a file photo, probably taken a year ago, don't you?


Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 7:30 a.m.

An adopted child of a state worker would be covered under the health care policy. The same sex unmarried "spouse' would not, nor would an unmarried heterosexuality "spouse" be covered Your "child" argument is not valid.

David Briegel

Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 2:01 a.m.

mm is so bereft of original thoughts and constructive ideas that telling others what to do is all he can accomplish. The reality is that he will be the one who desires to leave when sane Michiganders take back control of their govt!

Billy Bob Schwartz

Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 1:08 a.m.

MM...What is this? Ann Arbor..Love it or Leave it?? Come on. People don't have to move on in America. They can stay and fight. If they leave, we (the U) lose.

Michigan Man

Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 10:17 p.m.

Hating on others at Christmas time is not cool - where is your tolerance for diversity of opinion? You have free will - if you cannot deal with this - pack up and move along. U of M and other universities will be just fine.


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 9:08 p.m.

Well said, indeed.


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 8:25 p.m.

Anybody surprised that one can't figure out what the legislators are trying to do? I'm not They have a history of writing ambigous laws. They really don't want to make the voting public mad. Course when it's over & done they do make all mad.

David Briegel

Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 2:02 a.m.

Written by the "Ambiguously Gay Duo"?


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 7:58 p.m.

The bill also reads that it would apply "to the greatest extent consistent with constitutionally allocated powers." This should protect the state's public universities who clearly do have autonomy in the Constitution. Nonetheless, the Governor has stated that his intent is to make sure the bill ensures constitutionality and university autonomy. We'll see what happens, I guess. I'm afraid the Universities will have to litigate, and it's possible that affected individuals may have to litigate beyond the State Courts depending on the outcome. All this for less than 2,200 people. The State will spend much more in litigating this than they will in any savings, so it's clearly just discrimination.


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 7:41 p.m.

Why do we have to legislate exclusion? why wouldn't we want health care for everyone? why don't we want our neighbors, friends and coworkers to have access to health care?

Bruce Frier

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 3:14 a.m.

Actually, as Mary Sue Coleman pointed out, the bill is likely to save nothing. Gay employees will leave Michigan public service, or decline job offers, and they will be replaced by heterosexual employees who are far likelier to be married and have dependent children. The consequence: higher costs.


Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 5:29 p.m.

For the 138 participants outside of constitutionally autonomous Public Universities? How much will that save? If they should leave and be replace by married individuals the health care costs will be back to where they currently are -- if they have children they will be more expensive. You think this is about money? It's about hate, discrimination and pushing morals onto local governments by the far right wing.


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 8:32 p.m.

The main reason is money. I'm sure there are those in government who are homophobic and are happy to see exclusions just to make their point. But at bottom it all boils down to money.


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 7:28 p.m.

It appears you've gotten all the mileage you can out of this story...

Bruce Frier

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 3:25 a.m.

It will be years before the end of this story is written -- most probably by the Sixth Circuit or U.S. Supreme Court. Equal compensation for equal work has a strong constitutional basis.


Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 5:27 p.m.

Actually I believe Helen Reddy was fighting discrimination against women ... I somehow doubt that she'd support discrimination against another group. How lame.


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 9:31 p.m.

And yet, you are all still reading it and taking the time to comment. If you don't like it, move on!

Michigan Man

Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 8:58 p.m.

Starting to get fatigue over this story. How many elites on the left at U of M have moved on to another prestigious University or are at least packing their bags?


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 8:34 p.m.

"You And Me Against The World". Helen Reddy (1974)


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 8 p.m.

Or some have gotten tired of posting their hate filled discrimination, only to see much of it blocked by the moderators?