Date: 02/04/2009



Votes: View--> Action Taken:
Moved to refer Senate Bill 09-088 to the CommitteePASS

02:31 PM -- Senate Bill 09-088

Senator Veiga presented Senate Bill 09-088. The bill makes a domestic partner of a state employee eligible for coverage under state employee group benefit plans. The bill applies to group benefit plans issued or renewed on or after July 1, 2010. Senator Veiga stated that providing greater benefits to employees is one way to increase recruitment and retention. She said that a third of U.S. states offer partner benefits, as do 17 cities and five counties in Colorado. She indicated that the bill defines the term "domestic partner," and noted that the Department of Personnel was authorized to enact rules about who would qualify as a domestic partner. She stated that the number of individuals who would seek domestic partnerships would be small, but that it would be an important change.

02:35 PM

Senator Mitchell said that while there are compelling arguments for the bill, it is difficult to contemplate expanding benefits during the worst budget crisis the state has faced in years. Senator Veiga responded that while the timing is bad, the fiscal note and past experience at the University of Colorado indicates that only a small fraction of state employees will seek domestic partner benefits. She discussed the funding required and noted that 800,000 Coloradoans are uninsured and there are inequities in the system that invited litigation.

The following individuals testified:

02:39 PM --
Bruce Hausknecht, an attorney and legal analyst for Focus on the Family Action, testified in opposition to the bill. He stated that the bill purposely excludes many other groups with similar health insurance problems. He said that it would be better for the legislature to pass a "plus one" health coverage bill, and added that many organizations already have such legislation, particularly in states that have marriage laws prohibiting domestic partnerships. He discussed the 2006 debate about marriage, in which voters rejected the creation of domestic partnerships. He noted that benefits had been discussed at the time and that suggestions that Colorado pass a reciprocal benefits law had been rejected by proponents of the domestic partnership referendum. Mr. Hausknecht said that the bill is discriminatory and is a slap in the face to voters who did not approve domestic partnerships.

02:41 PM --
Jenny Kraska, the Executive Director of Colorado Catholic Conference, testified in opposition to the bill. She discussed the covenant of marriage and stated that public servants have a duty to protect marriage and the institution of family life. She said that the situation of non-married couples cannot and should not be regarded as similar to marriage, and indicated that benefits would give legal recognition to unmarried couples. She added that the conference's opposition to domestic partnership is not due to a lack of concern for unmarried persons, but due to a concern that legislation equating marital and non-marital unions undermines the privileged place of marriage. She requested that members of the committee oppose the bill.

02:43 PM --
Jessica Langfeldt, representing Colorado Family Action, testified in opposition to the bill. She stated that the bill would place taxpayers in conflict with their moral beliefs, and that it is unfair to force taxpayers to endorse same-sex relationships. She discussed current budget cuts and indicated that it would be financially irresponsible to expand benefits. She added that the bill would not jump-start the economy by increasing economic competitiveness, but would rather take money from the budget that had been allocated to other programs. Ms. Langfeldt discussed the results of the 2006 election and asked members of the committee to oppose the bill.

02:46 PM

Senator Mitchell asked Senator Veiga if the bill would go against the will of the voters. Senator Veiga replied that the voters had looked at a comprehensive civil unions bill that provided an alternative to marriage, whereas her bill is concerned with providing benefits to a wider range of people. Responding to a question from Senator Mitchell concerning the possibility of "plus one" legislation, Senator Veiga said that she went for a more discreet bill for political and fiscal reasons, and that her bill is targeted at a population that cannot marry, and therefore does not have the alternative to obtain benefits for a partner through marriage.

02:49 PM --
Jill Pollock, the Chief Human Resources Officer for the University of Colorado (CU), provided information on the history and use of the domestic partner benefits program for CU employees. She indicated that for administrative purposes, proof of coverage is similar to those outlined in the bill. She gave data on the participation in and cost of the domestic partner benefits program, and extrapolated from that data to say what would happen if the bill passed. Ms. Pollock stated that CU neither endorses nor opposes the bill.

02:54 PM --
Sherryl Brown, representing Colorado Workers for Innovative and New Solutions (WINS), testified in support of the bill. She stated that she is an employee of the Governor's Office of Information Technology for the Department of Human Services, and that she was testifying on behalf of her family. She described her family and discussed problems that can arise when a family member is not added to a health care plan, as well as financial problems caused by the lack of insurance. She responded to questions from Senator Harvey.

02:59 PM -- Kelly Shanahan, Policy Director for the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative (CCHI), testified in support of the bill. She described the CCHI and stated that the bill addresses the issue of access to health care. She stated that the CCHI's mission is for all Coloradoans to have access to health care.

03:00 PM --
Jacquelyn Kilmer, Vice President of the Colorado AIDS Project, and member of Colorado Organizations Responding to AIDS (CORA), testified in support of the bill on behalf of her organizations. She described the organizations she represents and stated that the cost to the state to supply benefits is outweighed by the cost of the uninsured.

03:02 PM --
Bob Bongiovanni, a state employee, testified in support of the bill on behalf of himself. He stated that he would have to leave his job for one that provided domestic partner benefits if his partner lost his job. Mr. Bongiovanni indicated that he is a member of Colorado WINS, which voted to endorse the bill because it better enables Colorado to recruit and to retain talented individuals.

03:05 PM --
Lorena Garcia, Colorado Lead Organizer for 9 to 5, National Association for Working Women, testified in support of the bill. She stated that the bill does not challenge the definition of marriage but rather expands health care. She added that the bill is a simple matter of fairness and that it would lead to a reduction in the number of uninsured individuals and in the number of emergency room visits. She cited data about states, cities, and counties with similar legislation and indicated that business and states that offer domestic partner benefits are more competitive. She said that not passing the bill would violate the moral beliefs of many Coloradoans.

03:07 PM --
Bruce DeBoskey, Regional Director of the Mountain States Office of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), testified in support of the bill. He stated that ADL fights all forms of discrimination, and that the bill makes economic sense. He indicated that ADL encourages the state of Colorado to join employers and other states that already offer domestic partner benefits, because it is the best way to ensure the best workforce, and because establishing a fair and inclusive benefits system is the right thing to do.

03:09 PM --
Daniel Gonzales, Political Coordinator for the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), testified in support of the bill. He stated that his organization advocates for culturally competent and comprehensive health care for Coloradoans. He indicated that Latinos as a group are unlikely to be insured, and that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) individuals are even more unlikely to be insured. He asked the committee to support the bill.

03:11 PM --
Reverend Bill Kirton, representing the Interfaith Alliance, testified in support of the bill. He said that he had recently retired from the Christian Ministry and discussed his family. He stated that domestic partnerships have never threatened his marriage or the marriages of his sons. He said that the bill is the right and the Christian thing to do and he described the evolution of the phrase in the Declaration of Independence that states that "all men are created equal." He said that it is time to recognize gay and lesbian individuals as fully human and fully a part of the community and culture.

03:14 PM

Senator Mitchell stated that he resented the implication that his judgments on policy indicated that he did not recognize individuals as human beings or wished to punish someone. Discussion continued among Senator Mitchell, Reverend Kirton, and Senator Harvey.

03:16 PM --
Ana Johnson, representing herself, testified in support of the bill. She stated that she is a full-time CU employee and described her background in public service. She described her family and discussed how changes in the benefits available through her employer had affected her family. She stated that in spite of the budget crisis, the bill should pass.

03:22 PM --
Mindy Barton, the legal director at the Gay and Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Community Center of Colorado and a representative of Equal Rights Colorado, testified in support of the bill. She said that it is important for the state to offer competitive employee benefits. She addressed previous discussions about "plus one" coverage, and stated that expanding the bill cannot be done right now. She added that the bill does not contradict the elections of 2006.

03:25 PM

Senator Harvey apologized for missing previous testimony and asked for Ms. Barton to clarify the definition of "plus one" coverage. Ms. Barton provided an explanation. Responding to further questions from Senator Harvey, Senator Veiga stated that she has no opposition to such coverage, but that the fiscal realities made it impossible. She noted that her bill provided coverage for a group that cannot access benefits in the same way that heterosexual couples can. Senator Harvey asked questions regarding whether the bill contradicted the 2006 vote against domestic partnerships. Senator Veiga indicated that she disagreed with Senator Harvey's assessment of the 2006 vote, and stated that her bill is a health benefit issue rather than a marriage one. Discussion continued.

03:31 PM

Ms. Barton responded to questions from Senator Mitchell concerning whether the bill was in opposition to the results of the 2006 vote, and said that other states with similar marriage laws provide domestic partner benefits. Senator Harvey asked follow-up questions and stated that the bill was a way to circumvent the voters' will. He asked whether voters would have a different view of a "plus one" coverage program. Ms. Barton noted that the community she represents has no opposition to "plus one" coverage, but that the fiscal realities make it impossible at this time. She stated that the bill may be a step towards "plus one" coverage.

03:35 PM

Senator Foster described a domestic partner benefits program in Denver. She discussed data about benefits usage in Denver, and stated that the bill was a chance to do what is right, but would not need to be discussed if better health care already existed. Ms. Foster stated that she resented Ms. Langfeldt's use of the word "behaviors" when referring to the community seeking domestic partners benefits, and Ms. Langfeldt apologized for her word choice.

03:39 PM

Senator Scheffel asked if there was information available about the fiscal cost of a "plus one" program. Senator Veiga stated that she did not have those numbers, but that it would probably expand the cost significantly.

03:40 PM

Senator Veiga distributed a letter of testimony from Angela Williams (Attachment D). She made closing remarks about the bill, and stated that it was fundamentally an issue of equality, fairness, and best business practices. She added that it is ultimately more expensive for individuals to be uninsured.

TIME: 03:40:54 PM
MOTION:Moved to refer Senate Bill 09-088 to the Committee on Appropriations. The motion passed on a 4-3 roll call vote.

03:43 PM

The committee adjourned.