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Committee Blocks Bill On Prohibiting Domestic-Partner Benefits

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - University of Louisville professor Gina
Bertocci recently landed a $4.5 million grant for research into
curbing child abuse.
But her continued work in Kentucky on the nagging social problem
hinged on an unrelated issue - whether state lawmakers would block
UofL from allowing unmarried partners of faculty and staff to
obtain health coverage through the school.
"If they're looking to push forward a bill that's going to
endorse discrimination, I'm not going to be doing my research
here," Bertocci said.
Bertocci was upbeat Wednesday after a House committee blocked
legislation aimed at preventing state agencies from offering
domestic-partner health benefits.
The measure failed in the Health and Welfare Committee on a
tense 8-8 vote.
"Certainly we would have appreciated a little wider margin,"
Bertocci said. "But it's a victory; we'll take it."
The proposal's supporters didn't concede defeat, holding out
hope that the issue could be revived in the final days of the 2007
General Assembly.
"With the kind of support we hear has been expressed to
members, anything can happen," said Martin Cothran, a spokesman
for the Lexington-based Family Foundation of Kentucky, a vocal
critic of the domestic-partner benefits offered by UofL.
The bill, which passed the Senate 27-8 last month, was a
reaction to UofL's decision last year to allow unmarried domestic
partners of faculty and staff to obtain health coverage through the
school. Those premiums are paid by the individual.
Sen. Vernie McGaha, R-Russell Springs, said his bill to block
such an expansion of coverage reflects the view of a "vast
majority" of Kentuckians. He said UofL's policy runs counter to a
state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Kentuckians voted nearly 3-to-1 in favor of the amendment in
2004. It defined marriage as something limited to one man and one
woman. It also prohibited unmarried people from ever obtaining
"legal status identical to or similar to marriage."
The bill would have allowed state health insurance plans to
cover only the employee and his or her family members - defined as
a spouse and their children. A spouse is defined as someone to whom
the employee is "legally married" under state law.
Rep. Scott Brinkman, R-Louisville, who voted for the bill, said
expanding health coverage to domestic partners could dramatically
increase eligibility to state health plans at a time the state
faces massive debt for its health and pension programs.
Another supporter of the bill, Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville,
said it wasn't a "sexual preference" issue.
"I think it's bad policy for this state," he said.
Rep. David Watkins, D-Henderson, voted against the bill, calling
it an "extremely bad precedent" to do anything to prevent health
care coverage.
Watkins also said such decisions should be left up the
universities.
"We do not need to micromanage our universities," he said.
At the University of Kentucky, the University Senate voted to
support domestic-partner benefits for faculty and staff. A special
committee of faculty and staff also recommended adding the
benefits, a proposal that's been under review by UK officials.
For Bertocci, the issue had big financial implications.
Bertocci said she has $500 taken out of her check each month to
have her partner covered by her insurance. Still, that amounts to a
savings. It would cost about $1,200 more each year for her partner
to be covered through an individual plan, she said.
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The legislation is Senate Bill 152.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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