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While controversy swirls at the White House, Chicago teachers go on strike and Democratic primary contender retired Admiral Joe Sestak walks 105 miles across New Hampshire.

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Domestic Partner Benefits Falling Under AZ Budget Ax

June 5, 2009

Phoenix, AZ - Republican legislative leaders are proposing to end domestic partner benefits for Arizona state employees as part of a $3-billion budget reduction. Health insurance and other benefits would end in October, one year after they went into effect.

Barbara McCullough-Jones, executive director of Equality Arizona, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights group, believes the benefit cut isn’t about balancing the budget.

"If removing health care benefits were an advantage to the state in the budget process, then they would have to have made a decision to remove all benefits from all state employees, and they did not."

The change would affect 750 workers and proponents estimate it would save $3 million, compared to the $625 million Arizona spends on its other employees for those benefits. The state made an administrative change last year to create domestic partner benefits, but Republican leaders argue that decision should have rested with the legislature.

The state has documented cases in which highly-qualified employees avoided Arizona in the past before domestic partner benefits took effect, says McCullough-Jones.

"Benefits have only been offered to state employees for a year now, but we know it has already made a difference. ASU and U of A were the last two Pac-10 schools to offer domestic partner benefits, so it made them much more competitive in that market."

The rule change would also impact heterosexual domestic partner couples, who have chosen not to marry.

Last year, Arizona voters banned same-sex marriage, but two years earlier, they rejected a similar measure that also would have outlawed domestic partner benefits. McCullough-Jones says it shows the public supports domestic partner benefits.

"When municipalities like Tucson and Phoenix start offering domestic partner registries, they’re really saying we’re listening to our citizens, who say we want these family recognitions; we want the responsibility and we'll care for the rights that are given us."

Opponents of the benefits change argue eliminating health insurance for domestic partners won’t necessarily save Arizona money because many workers, especially with children, will then qualify for the state’s indigent health coverage.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ