AZ Governor Backs State Worker Domestic Partner Health Coverage

December 5, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.COM) - Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano has said publicly that the domestic partners of state employees should get health benefits as a matter of fairness.

According to an Associated Press news report, the Arizona Department of Administration recently proposed changing eligibility rules for state employees’ benefits to include domestic partners and their children.

The change, which does not require legislative approval, will be considered by a Napolitano-appointed regulatory review panel early next year, the news report said.

“To me it’s an issue of employees all getting the same benefits,” said Napolitano, who signed a 2003 executive order barring discrimination in state hiring and personnel practices on the basis of sexual orientation.

The proposal drew support from gay-rights advocates who had lobbied Napolitano and her Republican predecessor for the change. Meanwhile, according to the Associated Press, critics claimed the change would undermine marriage and represented irresponsible new spending at a time when the state faces a worsening budget shortfall.

However, Napolitano said the benefits change would not harm the institution of marriage. “All it does is confirm that everybody’s entitled to the same benefits for the same work,” she said.

Department of Administration Director William Bell approved the change as a way to help the state attract and retain workers, department spokesman Alan Ecker said. “We view this as an enrichment of our benefits plan.”

The change would take effect October 1, 2008, and potentially affect approximately 65,000 state workers and 9,000 retirees, Ecker said. With projections based on experiences of two Arizona cities with similar benefits, the state could end up covering 317 to 853 people, Ecker said, according to the news report.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C -based advocacy group, 13 states and the District of Columbia now provide their employees with domestic partner benefits.