Politics & Government

Committee votes for domestic, same-sex partner benefits for city employees

A committee of the Lexington Urban County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to move forward with a plan to offer health insurance benefits for domestic partners. The vote comes nearly a decade after the city first tried to implement benefits that include same-sex partners.

A draft ordinance that would define a domestic partner will be reviewed by the council's General Government Committee at its Nov. 5 meeting. If that committee approves the ordinance, the issue could come up for a full vote of the council in late November or early December.

Vice Mayor Linda Gorton proposed studying domestic partner benefits earlier this year — a decade after then-Mayor Teresa Isaac's unilateral decision to implement the benefits. Isaac's move was later overturned by the council because of concerns about how the benefits were implemented.

Gorton said during Tuesday's meeting that providing domestic partner benefits was an issue of fairness and "to improve the competitive position of Lexington Fayette Urban County Government."

The majority — 62 percent — of Fortune 500 companies provide domestic partner benefits, Gorton said. In Kentucky, workplaces offering the benefits include Lexmark, Toyota and the Herald-Leader. Twenty-six states and 100 cities provide domestic partner benefits. In Kentucky, those cities include Louisville, Berea and Covington. The University of Kentucky, Western Kentucky University, University of Louisville and Eastern Kentucky University also provide domestic partner benefits, Gorton said.

The city is currently conducting a survey of its approximately 3,000 employees to see how many employees have domestic partners that would qualify. The city will develop a cost analysis that is expected to be completed by the Nov. 5 meeting. But based on previous cities' and universities' experience, it likely won't be many people. In 2007, when the University of Kentucky first offered domestic partner benefits, the university estimated that between 300 and 400 people would be interested. Only 126 employees signed up, Gorton said.

When the city offered domestic partner benefits in 2003, 17 couples signed up.

A key question is how to define a domestic partner.

Based on the experiences of other cities, Gorton recommended the following criteria for a domestic partner:

■ Live with a city employee for more than 12 months.

■ Be at least 18 years old.

■ Be financially interdependent — the person must share a mortgage, utility bills, etc — with an employee.

Gorton said the domestic partners would also have to submit a signed affidavit.

The qualifying criteria has not been finalized and can be modified at the November meeting, Gorton said.

Much of the discussion Tuesday centered on cost and how much money the city is supplementing current employee insurance plans. No one voiced opposition to domestic partner benefits.

"It's simply a matter of fairness, and it's a matter of competitiveness," said Urban County Councilman Chris Ford.

Urban County Councilwoman Diane Lawless agreed.

"Lexington has been seen as a very inclusive, diverse city," Lawless said. "It's about drawing people to our community."