Benefits on call at city 

Missoula City Council overwhelmingly approved benefits for the same-sex partners of city employees Monday, Feb. 28. Nine members voted in favor. Heidi Kendall was absent; Bob Lovegrove opposed the change; and Don Nicholson abstained. After some paperwork shuffling between the city and its health insurance manager, same-sex partners of city staff will be able to sign up for health insurance.

“I’m hoping to get it done within the month,” City Human Resources Director Gail Verlanic says.

In December, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the Montana University System’s (MUS) health benefits policy was in violation of the state Constitution’s equal protection clause. In short, the court determined that if domestic partners in opposite-sex relationships receive health benefits, then domestic partners of same-sex partners should receive the same. Missoula County began providing domestic partner benefits in 2003. Until Monday night, the city’s policy mirrored the unconstitutional university system policy. The Supreme Court’s decision brought to the forefront an issue that has lingered at the bottom of City Council’s agenda for more than a year.

In an earlier committee meeting, Council members stuck to business and legal principles when discussing benefits for same-sex partners.

Ward 3’s Stacy Rye brought the issue to the floor and presented it as a way to bring the city’s health benefits policy into compliance with the MUS court order.

“Do costs go up in any way?” asked Nicholson.

Data do not show cost increases, Verlanic replied.

Anne Kazmierczak suggested that another potential solution to the current inequity would be not funding any domestic partners of city staff.

“This [proposed solution] is more feel-good and PC, but wouldn’t it be easier to do this the other way?” she asked.

The city currently covers six opposite-sex domestic partners.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me to kick those six people off,” Rye said.

Verlanic said the city often competes for employees against cities that do provide same-sex benefits. “From strictly a business standpoint, it’s a good idea,” Verlanic said.

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