Fayette County

Committee approves domestic partner benefits for Lexington employees

A committee of the Urban County Council unanimously approved an ordinance Tuesday providing benefits to domestic partners of employees. The vote comes nearly a decade after the city first tried to implement benefits that include same-sex partners.

The ordinance must get final approval from the full council. It is not expected to face opposition.

If it passes later this month or in early December, Lexington will join Louisville, Covington and Berea as Kentucky cities that offer domestic partner benefits in a state that does not allow same-sex couples to marry.

Much of the discussion during Tuesday's General Government Committee meeting focused on potential costs and how to qualify for the program.

City officials estimated Tuesday up to 55 people could sign up for the new benefits, which would cost the city an additional $1,000 for each beneficiary. However, it's highly unlikely that 55 people will sign up for the benefits, based on the experience of other Kentucky cities and universities.

For example, Louisville has 7,000 employees, and only 48 people enrolled. The University of Kentucky has 14,000 employees, but only 123 people enrolled under the expansion of domestic partner benefits. When Lexington first offered domestic partner benefits in 2003, 17 couples signed up. Lexington has roughly 3,000 employees.

Mayor Teresa Isaac tried to implement domestic partner benefits without the council's consent, but the council later overturned her decision in 2004.

The ordinance says that to qualify for domestic partner benefits, the person must live with an employee for more than 12 months, be more than 18 years old and be financially interdependent — the person must share a mortgage, utility bills, etc. — with an employee.

Councilwoman Shevawn Akers noted the partner benefits ordinance would prohibit someone from joining the city's plan if they were eligible for another group insurance program.

However, the city's health insurance program does not have similar stipulations for spouses of employees.

The council voted unanimously to strike that language from the ordinance.

Councilwoman Diane Lawless said she hoped that the city could revisit the 12-month residency rule in the future. Other cities only require someone to live with an employee for six months to nine months.

"That's not equity, but we're moving in the right direction," Lawless said. But Lawless said that passing the ordinance shows "we, as a city, are a diverse and welcoming community."

Also on Tuesday, the General Government Committee voted to move forward with an audit of its health insurance program to determine if there are people who are currently on the city's health plan who do not qualify for health insurance benefits.