County resumes domestic partner health coverage talks
Written by Sari Lesk, Stevens Point Journal Media
STEVENS POINT – Portage County will resume discussions this week about whether to offer health care coverage to county employees' domestic partners.
The Human Resources Committee will talk at its Thursday afternoon meeting about offering the coverage, as well as the logistics of how to implement a plan.
If the committee decides to recommend the county move forward with the coverage, the committee members will also have to decide whether it wants to use or alter the state's definition of a domestic partner, as well as whether to cover the dependents of employees' domestic partners.
The county tabled discussions on the matter in September 2013 after deciding to wait for the state Supreme Court's decision on whether to uphold Wisconsin's domestic partner registry system. Now that the Supreme Court has unanimously ruled in favor of upholding the law, the committee is taking up the issue again.
"It's just the right thing to do," said County Board member Tom Mallison, who sits on the Human Resources Committee.
He said he thinks it would be hypocritical for the county to accept money in exchange for a domestic partnership license but not offer benefits to county employees who are in a domestic partnership.
Committee chairman Jim Zdroik said he thinks it's possible the issue will be tabled again this month, expecting that committee members will want to obtain more information before voting. He said some committee members are new from when the matter last came up and they might not be fully informed on the issue.
Human Resources Director Laura Belanger Tess said she does not know how many people would be affected if the county decided to offer the benefits. She said, however, that she doesn't expect to see a major impact on her department's budget.
The city of Stevens Point voted in June 2013 to extend benefits to employees' domestic partners, although the city's plan amended the state's definition to include both same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partnerships. Human Resources Manager Lisa Jakusz said only one person has added a domestic partner to his or her coverage since the city extended the benefits.
"It was a situation where the employee previously had single coverage and went to family coverage," she said.
State Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, said offering the coverage would be in the county's best interest.
"It does make our county more competitive for attracting people here ... and for retaining them," she said.
County Executive Patty Dreier said extending the coverage would make the county more competitive in recruiting employees.
"You better be ready to be competitive in having the best and brightest come work with and for you," she said.
The Human Resources Committee will meet at 4 p.m. Thursday in Conference Room 5 at the Portage County Annex.