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Jenny Wilson looks at new bid for domestic partners health insurance

29 02 08 - 12:13

By Jeremiah Stettler

Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson has charted a quiet course toward extending health-insurance benefits to the county's gay and lesbian employees, making little mention of her plans while a political firestorm persists on Capitol Hill surrounding Salt Lake City's newly minted domes- tic-partnership regis- try.
But make no mistake. This dyed-in-the-wool Democrat has every intention of pushing for health-insurance privileges for unmarried partners just as soon as the legislative session ends - potentially unlocking insurance coverage for same-sex couples, blood relatives and even friends who live together and mingle their finances.

"It is a matter of fairness," she said.
This isn't the first time Wilson has championed a more progressive county benefits policy. In 2005, just six months into her first term, she battled unsuccessfully to offer insurance benefits to gay employees. The measure failed in an emotional 5-4 party-line vote.
This time, Wilson wants to widen the county's benefits program to include any "adult designee" - a term that reflects cohabitation and financial interdependence rather than sexual orientation. Her model: Salt Lake City. The capital approved a similar policy two years ago.
"There is a difference in the way we treat people in Salt Lake County based on their sexual orientation," Wilson said. "I find that unfair and illogical. It's not a good business practice for us."
But even the broader measure could prove a tough sell on the Republican-led County Council.
"I just see this as an effort to redefine what family means," GOP Councilman David Wilde said. "I'm not interested in going down that road."
With Democrats still outnumbered 5-4 on the council, Wilson will have to recruit at least one Republican to her side. Internal talks haven't yielded any "clear commitments" yet, she said.
GOP Councilman Mark Crockett said he is willing to consider her health-insurance proposal, but warned his support will end when the branding of employees begins.
"If this is about extending health-care benefits on a fair and equal basis, I'm absolutely for it," he said. "To the extent that it becomes about protecting and defining a new class of people, I'm not."
Democrat Joe Hatch hasn't slackened his support since Wilson pitched her first proposal three years ago. He argued it was an equality issue then. He's doing the same now.
"Right now, we are defining a class of people," Hatch said. "If you are heterosexual, married and have a whole lot of kids, you are covered. This is eliminating a class distinction and making employees more equal."
In Salt Lake City, for instance, 78 percent of participants in the adult-designee program are not gay.
Once the legislative session ends, Wilson said she will roll out her health-insurance reforms "quickly" - if they are still legal.
Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, had sponsored a bill earlier in the legislative session to overturn Salt Lake City's newly adopted domestic-partnership registry. Critics feared the language also would kill the capital's benefits for adult designees.
A Senate committee shelved that bill. But Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, is sponsoring a substitute measure.
For now, Wilson simply must watch and wait. But once the councilwoman is prepared to pitch her proposal, she will have the backing of Equality Utah, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
"Any program that can be implemented where more people have access to heath-care benefits," remarked Mike Thompson, executive director of Equality Utah, "is better for all of us."

Democratic Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson plans to push for a more expansive health-insurance policy for county employees that would offer benefits to unmarried partners. Here is a look at the proposal's political progress:
* Just six months into her first term, in July 2005, Wilson champions a health-care policy that would extend insurance benefits to domestic partners. The measure fails 5-4 in an emotional party-line vote.
* Salt Lake City approves a broader "adult-designee" program in February 2006 that offers health insurance and other benefits to blood relatives, friends and domestic partners who live together and demonstrate financial interdependence.
* Emboldened by the capital's success, Wilson, then a candidate for city mayor, vows in April 2007 to introduce an adult-designee program for Salt Lake County employees.
* Wilson says in February 2008 that she will roll out her insurance proposal "quickly" after the legislative session ends. As with Salt Lake City's policy, health-care benefits would extend to unmarried partners who share finances and a home.
Source: Salt Lake Tribune archives




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