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Rock County Board committee votes 3-2 in favor of same-sex benefits

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Catherine W. Idzerda
January 2, 2014

JANESVILLE—A proposal to extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners of county employees was endorsed by a county board committee Thursday, but by only one vote.

The Rock County Board Finance Committee voted 3-2 to approve a resolution that would give county employees in registered domestic partnerships the ability to include their significant others on their health plan prescription drug coverage, dental insurance and other employee benefits currently extended to married couples.

It's something that the cities of Beloit, Janesville, Milton, Edgerton and Evansville already do. The village of Clinton, Blackhawk Technical College and the Janesville School District also extend benefits to same-sex partners.

It's unclear, however, if Rock County Board supervisors will vote to join them.

Finance committee members Sandy Kraft, Mary Beaver and committee Chairwoman Mary Mawhinney voted “yes” Thursday.

County Board Chairman Russ Podzilni and Supervisor Brent Fox voted “no.”

“People said we would be doing this because it's the right thing to do,” Podzilni said. “But the right thing to do for you could be different that what the right thing to do is for me."

Fox, too, said he has problems with the idea of domestic partnerships and said the domestic partnership registry has the potential for fraud.

Both men pointed out that Wisconsin doesn't recognize gay marriage.

Both men also said that they “wouldn't lose any sleep” if it passed, but they didn't intend to vote for it.

The resolution still has to go to the Rock County Board Staff Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 14, and to the county board Thursday, Jan. 23.

Kraft, who also is on the staff committee, said she strongly supports the resolution.

“We say that Rock County is a nondiscriminatory organization,” Kraft said. “If we follow what we say, this just seems to fit in.”

The resolution, which was drafted by Human Resources Director Dave O'Connell, notes that extending benefits would “increase the attractiveness of the county's employment benefit package” and thus facilitate “successful employee recruitment and retention.”

In an executive summary attached to the resolution, O'Connell notes that the issue had come up in two of the eight “meet and confer” sessions with non-law enforcement bargaining units.

Walworth County does not cover domestic partners. Dane County and several municipalities in Dane County cover domestic partners.

It's estimated the county's total health care costs would increase 0.5 to 1 percent if the resolution passes, according to a fiscal note attached. Those estimates are based on the experience of other public employers, the note says.

The county is self-insured, and its health care costs vary from year to year.

Rock County Sheriff Bob Spoden said he spoke in favor of the resolution Thursday and plans to do so again at the county board meeting.

One of his officers has a same-sex domestic partner, and Spoden doesn't think it's fair that she can't extend her benefits to her partner.

“This is the right thing to do,” Spoden said in an interview after the meeting. “History will judge whether we were a leader on this or whether we had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to do what will eventually be inevitable.”



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