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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Domestic partners to get health insurance Oct. 1

    Domestic partners of UA employees will be eligible for health insurance coverage beginning Oct. 1, thanks to a proposal approved by a state review panel yesterday.

    University officials said the change will greatly benefit recruitment and retention of faculty and staff.

    “”We don’t have to disappoint people like we used to,”” said Allison Vaillancourt, the university’s associate vice president of human resources.

    Gov. Janet Napolitano’s Regulatory Review Council voted 4-0 to approve the proposal the state Department of Administration introduced Nov. 15. The decision made the UA and Arizona State University the final two schools in the Pacific 10 Conference to adopt such a benefit system for state employees.

    The UA has about 10,000 faculty and staff eligible for one of six health insurance options, Vaillancourt said.

    While she couldn’t provide an exact estimate for how many people stand to gain coverage, she said comparable employers nationwide that adopted the system saw about 1 or 2 percent of employees asking for it.

    “”It’s work we’re happy to have,”” she said. “”We’ll be communicating with people and letting them know.””

    The decision constituted a victory of sorts for OUTReach, a campus networking organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer faculty, staff and graduate students.

    “”Having been on campus for 10 years and been a member of OUTReach for 10 years, I am certain that our members of our community believe this is a positive step forward,”” said Keith Humphrey, the group’s chair. “”While I haven’t had the chance to contact many people, we have talked about what this day will feel like, and we are very excited.””

    OUTReach has spent the past decade campaigning for such a benefit system, Humphrey said.

    Its efforts involved conversations with the UA administration and human relations, as well as meetings and talks with scores of representatives from the state Legislature, including Napolitano, he said.

    In the meantime, OUTReach fielded e-mails and phone calls from people intrigued about working at the UA, but who staked their interest on whether they got health insurance, he said.

    Once they learned they wouldn’t, they often looked at other universities, he said.

    “”We are just now fortunate to have a legislature that sees the economic benefits of this,”” he said.

    The Department of Administration solicited public comment on the proposal from Dec. 1-30, and more than 90 percent of the approximately 1,500 respondents supported it, according to The Associated Press.

    UA President Robert Shelton was among more than 670 individuals to send letters of support, according to a Jan. 2 release from Equality Arizona, a statewide lobbying group.

    The university has restricted hiring to only those positions Shelton calls “”most critical to the operations of the university”” until the end of the fiscal year in June. He said the change holds great promise for the fall and beyond.

    An increasing number of same-sex couples and spouses are entering the fray for university jobs across the country, Shelton said.

    UA deans and department heads being handcuffed to accommodate such applicants’ desires for benefits like health insurance has presented a “”significant issue”” during his tenure, he said.

    “”When we have positions open, we are no longer going to be at a competitive disadvantage for part of the pool,”” he said. “”It’s not going to open up a floodgate of new positions; that would cost a lot of money.””

    Former UA president Peter Likins, who immediately preceded Shelton, also advocated for domestic partner benefits in recent years.

    He said he was “”extremely pleased”” to learn of yesterday’s decision.

    “”During my presidency, we didn’t have the authority to do that for the university, as it applies to all state employees,”” he said. “”We did create tuition benefits to the employees as a small gesture toward these folks who had been historically disadvantaged.””

    Without the governor formally signing off on the decision, Likins expressed concern that legislators may yet step in and block the system’s implementation.

    While Napolitano backed the proposal, some Republican state legislators opposed it, according to The Associated Press.

    During her first year in office, Napolitano issued an executive order banning discrimination in state hiring and retention processes based on sexual orientation.

    Arizona joins 15 states that offer domestic partner benefits.

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