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Posted on Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 5:19 p.m.

Michigan House approves amended domestic partner benefits ban

By Kellie Woodhouse

The Michigan House of Representatives passed an amended domestic partner benefits ban today.


Dave Agema and his wife Barb.

Booth file photo

The bill, introduced earlier this year by House Republican Dave Agema, prohibits state employees from extending their health benefit offerings to domestic partners. It was first passed by the House in September but amended Wednesday by the state Senate to omit language saying the statute would apply to public universities.

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

The university exemption comes after education activists lobbied heavily against the bill, saying it would negatively impact colleges' ability to retain and recruit faculty.

University of Michigan officials are pleased with the change but still stand against the bill, spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said.

"The university’s concerns appear to have been addressed in the amended legislation that was approved in the state Senate today," Fitzgerald said in an email.


Leigh Greden

Eastern Michigan University Director of Government Relations Leigh Greden, a former Ann Arbor City Council member, said the school was pleased with the amended version of the statute.

He also said domestic partner benefits are important to other state entities aside from colleges.

"Universities, like the private sector, need to recruit and retain a highly skilled workforce and our ability to do so would be diminished if this legislation applied to us," he said. "That’s why the local Chamber of Commerce, local governments and universities were united in their opposition to this misguided legislation."

State Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, also opposed the legislation, which he believes will make offering domestic partner benefits illegal for not only governments and schools, but also universities if signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder.

"There's some confusion out there about whether universities are going to be included or not," Irwin said after today's vote. "The Senate thinks no. The House thinks yes."

If signed, House Bill 4770 will immediately revoke benefits from hundreds of Michigan families and their children, Irwin said.

"In addition to the intolerance exhibited by my House Republican colleagues, this immediate revocation of health care gives these families no time to plan an orderly transition to avoid a gap in coverage," Irwin wrote on his Facebook page today.

"The good news is that the bill is obviously unconstitutional with respect to universities and local government and there will likely be a long court battle, which may result in overturning the law," he added. "The bad news is that this court battle is likely to cost us all more than providing the benefits." reporter Ryan J. Stanton contributed to this report. Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 1:06 a.m.

Ms. Woodhouse, you can stop any further research regarding my question (asked again after the original story) about who sponsored the amendment excluding university employees. It was State Sen. Mark Jansen, R-Gaines Township. You're welcome.


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 4:25 p.m.

I appreciate the ammendment. I am an ex-Republican who now votes as an Independant. I will remember those Republicans who chose to support discrimination and will actively support their opponents in the next election. I urge Governor Synder to veto this bill and demand full rights for every member of our great state.

Jim Mulchay

Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 1:59 p.m.

From the above article - "The university exemption comes after education activists lobbied heavily against the bill, saying it would negatively impact colleges' ability to retain and recruit faculty." So the leaders of our state's public colleges and universities have enough lobby clout to get their "exemption" - but the rest of the impacted state employees can go to court and wait their turn - I got mine!, the rest of you go find a lawyer! If this is wrong it ought to be wrong for ALL state employees - not just the ones with the lobbyists;

Terrin Bell

Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 5:09 a.m.

Republican government are anti-working class period. They are attacking workman compensation laws where an independent judge generally decides such matters and are changing that to where a political appointee would decide such matters. They support tax breaks for the rich, but for the 99 percent, they say no and that we will understand. Now public institutions are forced to implement discrimination. My deceased father and Grandfather who both fought in wars for their Country and who have died wouldn't recognize the place anymore. In France, they'd be burning down buildings. The government should be afraid of the people, not the other way around.


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 4:46 a.m.

Disgraceful. When I lived in the UK (Where Christianity is the National Religion), we viewed the US as progressive and modern, with a place for everyone and their lifestyles. Now I live here, I realize that's just because you have good PR. There, if you live with someone as a parter -regardless of sexuality- for (I think) 6 months, they are entitled to the same treatment a spouse. But if you must insist on a piece of paper to endorse the partnership, at least make that option avaialable to all.


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 1:29 p.m.

that's exactly what we've been fighting for here. You may have a nationalized religion, but the religion here holds a much more devious power. By not being officially part of the government, they are never held accountable for their policies and influence on the government. They just get to do everything tax-free.


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 1 a.m.

Ms. Woodhouse, I will ask the same question I had asked in the previous story (to which I received no reply): Is it known who introduced the amendment to exclude public universities from this bill?

Michigan Man

Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 12:06 a.m.

Academics such as U of M and EMU watch out for #1 and then dump on all others? A rather phony, 1% and selfish way to behave? I really have little investment in this entire matter, however, it does seem like the powerful and prestigious types not interested in the little guy. Go Blue?


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 1:28 p.m.

for every faculty member that you demonize, there are about 10 "little guys" working at the university because of some grant or other funding that the faculty brings in.


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 12:52 a.m.

Ridiculous. Yes, there are faculty members at the U-M. But there are also thousands of staff people who are a lot more like you than you'd like to admit, apparently.


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 12:35 a.m.

I think their statements have made it pretty clear that they oppose this legisaltion, on behalf of all Michigan families, including many 'little guys'. But if UM et al. can no longer claim that their immediate interests are harmed because they're excluded, they have no standing in any ensuing litigation, so they're legally enjoined from working on behalf of the 'little guy'.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 11:55 p.m.

There are a couple of interesting issues with these disappointing legislative actions. First, by removing the explicit language making the law applicable to public universities, but putting in generic language referring to other public entities that may or may not apply to the universities, the presumption is that the legislature recognized the independence of universities under the stae constitution. The governor may clarify that point when he signs the bill (foregone conclusion in my view), but it's less clear that the state AG can't substitute his own opinion here that it will apply to the universities. If there is consensus that it doesn't apply to the universities, they have removed two major litigative concerns: the obvious unconsitutionality under the state constitution, and the risk of litigating against the deep pockets and even deeper legal expertise of UM, MSU, etc. (in terms of sheer legal firepower, UM can take on the state any day). This may become particularly relevant when (not if) this is headed to federal court, where a very similar law in Arizona was recently struck down by the trial court and the 9th circuit of appeals on equal protection grounds. While I can see that our 6th circuit will be less inclined to rule the same way, a circuit split would set potentially the stage for a Supreme Court case. And then having a removed a deep-pocketed litigator like UM will matter - or do you think the City of Ann Arbor (or Detroit, for that matter) can afford that kind of multi-million doillar litigation aganist Schuette?

Mike D.

Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 12:03 a.m.

Sadly, I think your analysis is spot-on. However, I think some third party will sue the universities as well because of the ambiguity of these bills. We're going to be spending many, many times in litigation what these benefits ever would have cost, if they had any cost at all.

Mike D.

Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 11:07 p.m.

If Snyder is being honest about supporting a business friendly environment, he'll veto these bills. They would send a message to the business world that Michigan is a closed-minded, backwards place at odds with most large companies' policies and values. I hope the human factor also would come into play here; this is punitive and cruel to certain families. Also, it's a bit misleading to say that these universities are "pleased" with the amended versions of these bills. Based on their representatives' quotes, they obviously do not support these bills. They are please with the amendments because the universities now won't be impacted directly. There's a big difference between being pleased with the amendment and supporting the bill as it now stands.

Mike D.

Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 2:09 p.m.

There is no proof it will save a penny. Very few gay and lesbian people currently enroll a partner for these benefits. If this group of people leaves state jobs, they will be replaced with straight people, who are more likely to be married than gays are to have domestic partners. We'd be replacing generally single, cheap-to-insure gays with expensive-to-insure heterosexuals, their husbands and wives, and their children. These bills aren't about money; they are about discrimination.


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 1:26 p.m.

@klondike, it only cuts costs in one area. But by doing so, increases costs in others. It may be fewer people on the insurance plan for the state, but by removing a large group of people they could make their overall premium go up because it's a smaller pool. Additionally, if we're talking about "costs" for "businesses" as a whole in the state, this only increases the burden for the rest of us when these uninsured people get sick and have to use the medical facilities anyway. The fewer people we have insured, the more it costs everyone at the individual level.


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 12:58 a.m.

If by supporting business you mean cutting costs, you are dead wrong. That's the only think Slick Rick was put in office for. By cutting domestic partner benefits, you cut the cost of doing business. That trumps business friendly every day.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 10:51 p.m.

Yesterday there was an article about a man in a wheelchair who was victimized by a hit-and-run driver. Comments on this site were unanimous in expressing outrage over such cruelty. Taking away health care from people just because they are gay/lesbian is no less cruel. It's just a different type of 'hit-and-run.' Yet many comments below will likely support such cruelty, not express outrage against it.


Fri, Dec 9, 2011 : 9:38 p.m.