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Amelia Kashian
Amelia Kashian
Features Editor

Being passionate is one of the best parts of being human, and I am glad that writing has helped me recognize that. I have been writing stories since I was a little girl, and over...

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Opinion — Its okay to outgrow your college friends
Opinion — It's okay to outgrow your college friends
Megan PoeApril 12, 2024

Domestic partner health care benefits at risk of elimination

The Senate Committee on Reforming, Restructuring and Reinventing recently approved a bill aimed at eliminating health care benefits for domestic partners of public state employees.

If passed, the bill would put into effect the “Public Employee Domestic Partner Benefit Restriction Act.” The act prohibits public employers from providing medical benefits to any individual living with an employee.

The bill applies to individuals who are not married to the employee, a dependent of the employee or otherwise eligible to inherit from the employee.

“We think (the bill is) bad policy,” said Michael Gregor, director of communications at Equality Michigan. “We think it’s a waste of legislative time and energy.”

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The bill, which was introduced by state representative Dave Agema (R-Grandville) in June 2011, is brewing controversy among equality groups in Michigan because of its discrimination against transgender and gay individuals.

The bill will affect employees working in all public municipalities of the state of Michigan, including school districts, city governments and public universities.

“We’re at a place where city governments, school districts and universities have voluntarily chosen to provide these benefits,” Gregor said. “They understand the value in treating their employees fairly. They’ve decided it’s a good use of their money.”

“It’s really crucial for recruiting talented people in a competitive marketplace and it’s really crucial for treating gay and transgender people with fairness and equality.”

Northern’s current policy on health care benefits encompasses any two people who are unrelated and have been living together for 18 continuous months.

“Basically, under certain conditions, (faculty members) that are unmarried and unrelated living in the same household can apply and be eligible for NMU health care benefits,” Cindy Paavola, NMU director of Communications and Marketing, said.

“So that would cover people that are in a domestic partner situation, but it’s not specific to just that category.“

Paavola said while the bill will affect only a select number of NMU employees, those who do rely on such benefits would be at a major loss.

“It’s a very small number of people that take advantage of this particular benefit,” Paavola said. “It has never gone over five people in any given semester.

“But to those people, whether it’s one person or more, it’s health care benefits for people they consider their family and those health care benefits are very important to them.”

An amendment to the state constitution in 2004 that made same-sex marriages and civil unions unlawful has become a crucial factor in the approval of the bill in the House and the Senate.

Proponents feel that employers who provide such benefits to domestic partners are breaking the law, while opponents feel that such a prohibition is not necessary to implement the amendment.

“We’ve seen an incredible outpouring of opposition to this bill,” Gregor said. “We’ve had kids that were part of the health care benefits plan and people whose partners are employees and who are dealing with chronic illnesses.”

The bill’s sponsor was unable to be reached for comment. However, according to his website, he introduced the bill on the premise of financial benefits, the will of voters and the unlawfulness of allowing such benefits to same-sex/unmarried partners of public employees.

“It is not the responsibility of taxpayers to support the roommates and unmarried partners of public employees,” Agema said in a press release on Sept. 15. “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.”

If passed, the act will save the state nearly $8 million in costs.

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