Domestic Partner Benefits Improved

A Nevada panel that oversees health insurance benefits for state employees voted Thursday to extend coverage to domestic partners, including those of the same sex, despite budget problems that could make the $2.7 million cost unaffordable.

State Public Employees Benefits Program board members voted 5-3 to move forward despite concerns about the cost voiced by some members.

If funding doesn't develop during the 2009 legislative session to pay for the expansion of benefits to domestic partners and their children, the regulation won't take effect.

Candice Nichols, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Center of Southern Nevada, prasied the decision, saying it "enables Nevada to recruit the best and brightest employees for the state."

"For too long, Nevada has not been able to offer the same benefits package options to current and prospective employees and compete with other states for the most qualified employees," Nichols said.

Proponents of the change had argued it's consistent with Nevada laws that ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Presidents of Nevada's eight higher education institutions petitioned the PEBP board last year, asking them to offer benefits to domestic partners. The idea has generated controversy since the state's university-college regents first discussed it in 2005.

Critics of the change, including backers of a successful 2002 ballot initiative banning gay marriage in Nevada, had argued that it could lead to children being taught that same-sex and opposite-sex relationships were "moral equivalents."