County Board Supports Same-Sex Benefits

The Washtenaw County board of commissioners passed a resolution at its Dec. 7, 2011 meeting that urges state lawmakers to reject HB 4770, HB 4771 and “any legislation that codifies discrimination.” The proposed state legislation – which has been passed by the House, and was passed by the Senate earlier in the day – would remove the ability to extend benefits to same-sex partners. Currently, Washtenaw County offers benefits to same-sex partners of its employees. The legislation will be sent back to the House for ratification, then forwarded for Gov. Rick Snyder to sign into law.

The resolution was brought forward by Washtenaw County commissioner Yousef Rabhi (D-District 11). [.pdf of resolution] Rabhi described the situation as an issue of fairness and equality – the county should be able to treat all of its employees, regardless of sexual orientation, with the same level of care. He also argued that eliminating the county’s ability to extend benefits would hamper its hiring ability. That’s of particular concern because the county is expected to fill about 100 positions in the coming year, in the wake of a high number of retirements at the end of 2011.

The county offers its employees the option of benefits in an “other eligible adult” category, which includes benefits to same-sex partners as well as opposite-sex partners. There are nine people enrolled in this category of benefits, according to Diane Heidt, the county’s human resources and labor relations director.

Commissioner Rob Turner (R-District 1) and Dan Smith (R-District 2) voted against the resolution. Turner said he appreciated that in the past, the board has stayed away from weighing in on state-level issues, which can cause divisiveness among commissioners, he said. Smith argued that the board should focus on issues affecting the county.

Several other commissioners expressed support for the resolution. Alicia Ping (R-District 3) noted that there are already 50,000 people in Washtenaw County who are uninsured, and she didn’t think it was good to take any action that would add to the ranks of the uninsured.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building at 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor, where the board of commissioners holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link]