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Assembly Approves Domestic Partner Insurance Measure

June 03, 1997|MAX VANZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — The Assembly on Monday passed a bill that would require insurers to give companies the option of covering domestic partners of their workers, much as married employees are routinely covered now along with their nonworking spouses.

The bill by Assemblywoman Carole Migden (D-San Francisco)--heavily amended from an earlier version--was sent to the state Senate on a vote of 42 to 34, including yes votes by four Republicans on an issue that many in the GOP call a purely "gay rights" issue.

Under the bill (AB 1059), insurers and HMOs offering group health care benefits to companies for workers and their families would have to make coverage for workers and their same-sex partners an option. The bill would also apply to unmarried men and women living together.

Employers would not be forced to offer the coverage, Migden said, adding that she substantially scaled back terms of the measure since it was introduced because "I want to get it enacted."

Even with the changes, she said, "This bill will benefit real people, thousands of Californians in nontraditional families, including seniors who pair up but don't marry in order to avoid losing retirement benefits, same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples who live together in stable, long-term committed relationships."

To improve chances of passing the bill, Migden agreed to strip out provisions calling for state recognition of domestic partnerships through a registry system that would have ensured certain rights now enjoyed by married couples.

"[Gov.] Pete Wilson always vetoed it" when the so-called registry bills came before him, Migden said.

But Wilson was apparently no closer to approving the amended Migden bill.

"It would impose a mandate on employers and is an effort to indirectly equate domestic partnership to marriage," Wilson spokesman Steve Tatum said.

Most Assembly Republicans also remained opposed, including conservative Steve Baldwin of El Cajon, who argued that the measure is designed to promote the "homosexual lifestyle." It is not the role of government, he said, "to offer benefits to unmarried lovers."

Migden said her bill merely follows the practices of many large companies, usually those that self-insure, that extend health benefits to an employee's live-in partner. Among those doing so are American Express, Coors Brewing Co. and Microsoft, she said.

Additionally, Migden cited major health plans that have announced they will begin, on their own, offering domestic partner coverage to employees of small businesses.

Kaiser Foundation Health Plan has offered the coverage for three years.

Migden, a lesbian, said her measure is not one that she or her partner, both gainfully employed, need now.

But the day may come, she said, "that we might."

* L.A. SCHOOL DISTRICT JOINS TREND: L.A. school board votes to extend health benefits to domestic partners of unmarried employees. B1

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