Domestic partners must prove commitment, city council says
JANESVILLE Just what is a domestic partner?
The question might come to mind after the Janesville City Council voted 6-1 Monday in favor of extending health care benefits to employees with domestic partners. DuWayne Severson was the "no" vote.
The term applies to same-gender and opposite-gender couples.
But that doesn't mean roommates can sign up, council member Sam Liebert said after the meeting.
Under the city's definition, domestic partnership means the individuals:
-- Share a common residence.
-- Consider themselves to be members of each other's immediate families.
-- Share responsibility for each other's welfare, financial obligations and living expenses.
According to a city memo, a couple enrolling as domestic partners would submit proof of:
-- Having filed a declaration of domestic partnership with the Rock County Clerk's Office or with the state or having filed an affidavit of domestic partnership with the city.
-- Joint home ownership or lease.
-- A joint checking or savings account.
City Manager Eric Levitt said the city will fine-tune the policy by adding a way to monitor the status of domestic partners and defining the length of time couples must be together before they can apply for benefits.
The city will write a policy to measure if couples meet the domestic partnership definition, he said.
"Domestic partnership isn't just a catch phrase, it is a legal standing," council member Russ Steeber said at the meeting.
Steeber said he received calls and emails from residents morally opposed to extending health care benefits to domestic partners. The council earlier this year extended funeral benefits to domestic partners.
Steeber said he considered it a fairness issue.
Those in a domestic partnership should have the same status as those in a legally binding marriage, Steeber said.
"They're both a legal status," he said.
Susan Musick, human resources director, could not give an estimate on how much the change could cost. Other places that have extended coverage generally see costs go up less than 1 percent of the medical claims filed per year, she said.
That means the city would pay an additional $10,548 for each single employee who claims a domestic partner.
If three employees enrolled, for example, the cost to the city would be about an additional $31,644, including dental coverage.
"Mainly, it's about extending health care coverage to people who already share everything else," Liebert said at the meeting.
"These are people who have partners. Whether the same sex or opposing sex, these are people who are co-dependent upon each other and have a family-type unit," Liebert said.
A growing number of cities and companies are extending coverage, he said.
"It's a natural progression of a tool to recruit and retain top-notch talent," Liebert said.
Councilman Jim Farrell said companies that offer domestic benefits are some of the top companies in the state.
"One of the reasons they are rated highly (is because) they treat their employees well," Farrell said.
"I'd like to see Janesville in that same category."