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Michigan House approves ban on public employee partner benefits

MahurinEcon_Thumb1_1486.jpg
MahurinEcon_Thumb1_1486.jpg

The Michigan House of Representatives Thursday afternoon approved two pieces of legislation which will prohibit Michigan’s public employers from offering benefits to unmarried partners of employees.

The bills, HB [4770](http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(w4ym2255w31r2j2njutuqo45))/mileg.aspx?page=GetObject&objectname=2011-HB-4770) and [4771](http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(kvibcf554g4cganlvmbybfap))/mileg.aspx?page=GetObject&objectname=2011-HB-4771), passed the body on a 64 to 44 vote.

Opponents of the legislation said it was discriminatory and unconstitutional.

“These bills target unmarried heterosexual couples — which violates Michigan’s civil rights laws,” said Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield Hills).

Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) also opposed the legislation. He said that valuing same-sex and unmarried couples was a community value in Ann Arbor, and the legislation would “usurp” the right of the community.

Several lawmakers slammed the legislation as violating several Michigan constitutional provisions. Among those highlighted were the independence of the state’s universities, the Michigan Civil Service Commission’s authority to set benefits and compensation for state employees and provisions which provide for local control.

That view was supported earlier this year by Michael Gadola, legal counsel for Gov. Rick Snyder. In a May 18 letter to Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) and Speaker of the House Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) Gadola informed the leaders that a provision in the budget which would force universities to pay a five percent penalty for offering benefits was unconstitutional.

“This ‘offset’ provision Article 8, sections 5 and 6 of the Michigan Constitution, which confer autonomy on the university governing boards,” Gadola wrote. “Specifically, these Constitutional provisions grant a university board ‘general supervision of its institution and the control and direction of all expenditures from the institution’s funds.’”

But Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) said the legislation was about enforcing the will of the people who approved the 2004 anti-marriage equality amendment.

“It’s clear the intent (of domestic partner programs) is to get around the will of the people,” McMillin said.

McMillin also said the issue was one of economics.

“These are very expensive benefits,” he said. “If you don’t mind tuition being a little bit more expensive, then vote no.”

“This session’s rash of hate-fueled legislation is broad and punishing. The extremists in the House are a tank rolling down Main Street, leaving no vulnerable community unthreatened,” said Emily Dievendorf, policy director at Equality Michigan. “Their efforts, while clearly inspired by animosity toward the gay and transgender community, are expressed through such a blinding and irrational rage that it has no limits.”

“In just this set of bills Rep. Agema aims to further disable gay families, slaughter our unions’ ability to advocate via collective bargaining, violate our constitution, hinder the health of our public employees’ families, disrespect our separation of powers, and the negate the autonomy of our colleges and universities,” Dievendorf said. “Michigan’s extremist lawmakers make it difficult for the public, inside and outside of our state, to believe in the existence of a ‘rational conservative.’ Voting in favor of these absurd policies align legislators with the outliers. In Michigan and nationwide the vast majority of citizens are in favor of equal employment and housing protections and even marriage equality. Perhaps Michigan’s conservative leaders have stopped paying attention to their constituencies.”

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