Gov signs ban on partner benefits for unmarried public employees

By Todd Heywood

Updated Jan. 2, 2012

LANSING -

On Dec. 23 Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law HB 4770 which prohibits public employers from providing partner benefits to unmarried partners of public employees.

There had been some speculation that Snyder would not sign the bill when he asked the legislature to take the bill back and amend it to expressly prohibit the law from stopping universities from offering such benefits. Snyder has said that he does not believe the state can regulate the universities because of the autonomy afforded them by the state constitution.

House analysts said the legislation would not exclude universities, but Senate analysts said it would.

"In a signing letter to the legislature, Snyder reiterated the fact that higher education institutions would not be included in H.B. 4770 as the constitutional autonomy of universities has been reviewed and affirmed many times by the courts since the adoption of the 1963 Michigan Constitution. Members of classified state civil service are also not covered by the terms of H.B. 4770 as the constitution gives the Michigan Civil Service Commission responsibility for setting rates of compensation and regulating all conditions of employment in the classified service," said the Governor's press release.

"The decision to take healthcare benefits away from families just in time for the holidays is mean-spirited and cruel. Governor Snyder had an opportunity to show real leadership and put an end to the political games; instead he approved an extreme policy that sets our state back, jeopardizes our economy and puts our families at risk," said Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan ACLU. "The bill serves no other purpose than to single out a small minority of people and deprive them of critical protections as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. We are prepared to challenge this law on behalf of Michigan families in the coming weeks."

"This decision was made after a difficult review process, with the ultimate determination that it would NOT apply to public universities. This issue had not been something on the Governor's agenda, and he's looked at it solely from an economic point of view," said Sara Wurfel's, a spokesperson for Snyder.

Emily Dievendorf, policy director at Equality Michigan, also slammed the governor for the signing.

"Governor Snyder's support for these bills is appalling. Today, the Governor told unmarried public employees that they can no longer care for their partners or children. He has put hardworking gay and lesbian couples and their children into harm's way by eliminating important health care coverage. He has spent the last two years talking about creating a welcoming state with a attractive business climate, and these bills fly in the face of those goals," said Dievendorf. "All families in our state, including gay and lesbian families, should have fair access to health care coverage. Governor Snyder caved to the radical social agenda coming from the legislature. He has rejected our shared commitment to economic growth. In order to compete in today's global business environment, we must build a culture that prioritizes fundamental fairness. This law will only serve to hurt Michigan."

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) called the bill signing "disgusting," and noted that she was concerned the governor had signed the legislation without knowing for sure who it would actually apply to.

Meanwhile, Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan, put out a press release praising the governor for his signature on the legislation.

Democratic State Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren) said he was disappointed the governor had signed the bill.

"If there is any question this governor is a moderate, that has just gone out the door," said Bieda. "The rest of the country we want to attract the best and brightest into the state. I think it sends a message about what kind of state we are. I think it is particularly cruel happening two days before the holidays. It is going to be traumatic and extraordinarily disruptive to a number of families across the state. I had hoped the Gov's better nature would have prevailed, but evidently not."

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