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Friday, April 8, 2011

County HRC frustrated by domestic-partner benefit delays

Posted By on Fri, Apr 8, 2011 at 1:14 PM

The county's Human Relations Commission continues to play the waiting game with county officials on the implementation of domestic partner benefits.

During its monthly meeting yesterday, commissioners signed off on a letter to the county solicitor, citing the one-year anniversary of County Executive Dan Onorato's request for the commission to make the recommendation. The letter urges the administration "to take steps to extend these benefits without further delay."

The letter comes on the heels of commissioners meeting with county labor attorney Bob McTiernan, County Solicitor Michael Wojcik and County Manager Jim Flynn to discuss the implementation. According to HRC members, county administrators planned to then meet with Onorato and report back to the commission, but no timeline has been set.

"We moved quickly," HRC Chairman Hugh McCough said at the meeting. Last year "was a political season and we were patient. But people's lives are involved and I know there are people who are affected by this. They are not coming forward but if you look at the pace of what's transpired in the past, you can understand why."

"Onorato asked for this. He's in charge. He needs to make the decisions. There's no reason to kick it down the road," said commissioner Stephan Broadus.

As City Paper first reported last June, the volunteer commission has been pushing county administration a measure to allow same-sex couples to receive family health insurance just as married couples do.

The measure has met some obstacles, particularly in terms of who can get the coverage immediately. The county has about 6,500 employees covered under a Highmark health plan; all but 1,500 are represented by unions. Of those represented by 22 bargaining units, roughly half are in the middle of four-year contracts. The benefit would have to be negotiated into those contracts.

If the commission had its druthers, the benefit would be extended to non-union represented county employees immeidately. But the county administration has said the plan is to maintain consistency by offering the benefit to union and non-union workers at once.

Commissioner members say they hope they don't have to wait for the next administration. As the Early Returns blog noted, a county executive candidates recently addressed the issue at a Women & Girls Foundation event on March 06, which was moderated by HRC commissioner Sara Davis Buss.

Only one candidate for county executive, Rich Fitzgerald, outright pledged support for the issue that has, so far, defined the HRC.

The commissioners' letter to the county also cited a 2006 report that was the basis for Pittsburgh Public Schools extending domestic-partner benefits. According to the district, 16 individuals are enrolled in that program. The city of Pittsburgh also offers the benefits to 65 employees.

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