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July 29, 2011

Partners added to Cleveland health plan

But the benefit, the same one spouses get, is limited to only 15 couples

Cleveland--Council passed domestic partner benefits for city employees on July 20, but limited city-funded health coverage to couples who joined the city’s domestic partner registry before May 1.

Other workers can have their domestic partners added to their insurance, but at a cost to the worker of $8,000 a year.

The May 1 limit was a compromise over the cost of granting the benefits, which is estimated to be around $100,000 if all 15 couples who are eligible sign up for the plan.

However, the city spends the same amount per couple for married spouses, which is has covered for decades at a cost of millions.

Ward 2 Councilor Zack Reed cast the sole vote against the measure, leaving it with a 171 approval.

“My understanding is that the concerns of the administration and some on the council were financial in the face of budget cuts from Gov. Kasich’s administration,” said Rob Rivera, president of the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats. “The most important thing for now to focus on, is they got it through with only one ‘no’ vote, and we and others plan to continue to meet with council members and the administration to get this expanded at the earliest possibility to all employees.”

“I am confident we can do that,” he asserted.

The ordinance was sponsored by Ward 3 Councilor Joe Cimperman, who has been behind most of the pro-LGBT legislation in the city over the last few years.

There was little notice about the vote. The ordinance was added to the special summer meeting of the city council late in the game after having little movement since its introduction in March.

While many in the LGBT community are concerned about the May 1 cutoff date for registered couples, Rivera noted that the passage of the ordinance is not the end of the story, but rather the beginning.

“I will be meeting with Joe Cimperman, Council President Martin Sweeney and a representative from the mayor’s office in the next week or two,” he noted. “I think the best thing about this is that it’s not about whether or not benefits should happen, but about timing.”

“It’s not perfect, but it’s a big step forward,” he continued.

The domestic partner registry, which was passed by city council in 2008, took effect in May 2009. Later that year, the city added transgender people to its antidiscrimination ordinances.

The passage came just a day after the inner-ring suburb of East Cleveland unanimously passed a major expansion of its civil rights ordinances to include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

“There’s a gap in state law regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, so these local ordinances fill that gap in a very important way,” Rivera said.




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