Nevada Panel OKs Domestic Partner Benefits

A panel that oversees the health insurance plan for Nevada's state employees has voted to extend benefits to domestic partners, including those of the same sex, and their children.

The Public Employees' Benefits Program board also voted Thursday
to recommend to Gov. Jim Gibbons and the Legislature that the state
provide funding to extend a state-paid insurance subsidy to domestic partners and their children, at a cost of about $3 million a year.

A subsidy is provided by the state now to employees to cover their spouses and children.

The expansion of the health care plan to cover domestic partners
is not expected to take effect until the 2009-10 fiscal year.

Leslie Johnstone, executive officer of the program, said officials will need several months to draft regulations for the new policy.

The rules for the policy, referred to as providing health benefits to reciprocal beneficiaries, must win approval from the Legislative Commission before they can take effect.

The decisions made by the board filled in the details of a previous vote. The board had voted unanimously in December to move forward with covering domestic partners.

ACLU of Nevada Executive Director Gary Peck applauded the board
for its decision, saying the board "had the vision and courage to do the right thing by extending these benefits to people who clearly deserve them."

But Richard Ziser, chairman of Nevada Concerned Citizens and a leader in a successful move five years ago to ban gay marriages in Nevada, said the state should not be spending money on such benefits.

"It seems a little ironic, when the governor and everyone is having to cut budgets, that they want to add expenses," he said.

Ziser said offering such benefits would require a new "definition of a spouse" in Nevada law, and the board, as a non-elected body, doesn't have the authority to do so.

But Peck said the idea that offering the benefits has anything to do with Nevada's "Protection of Marriage" act is "flat-out wrong."

"It has nothing to do with the sanctity of marriage," Peck said. "It's about benefits and equality."

The original request to include domestic partners in the state health plan came from the Nevada System of Higher Education. University and college presidents told the board in June that extending benefits to partners is essential to their ability to recruit top professors and administrators.
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Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-01-11-08 1527EST


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