- City Councilman Jerry Heimlicher
City to study 'buy-in' benefits for domestic partners
A sk any of the eight members of the Colorado Springs City Council who voted to ax health-care benefits for same-sex partners of city employees last April, and they will defend their decision.
They probably won't cite how they promised conservative religious groups -- which backed them during the spring election campaign -- to rescind the benefits. More likely, they will repeat arguments they made in April -- that the cost of insuring same-sex partners was unjustifiable, or that it discriminated against unmarried heterosexual partners who weren't covered.
Yet despite their insistence that it was the right decision, some council members still seem troubled that it cast them, in the eyes of many, as gay-bashers.
Now, they are looking to make amends.
At the suggestion of Councilman Larry Small, the Council agreed this week to explore a "buy-in" plan, through which anyone living in the same household as a city employee could participate in the city's benefits program -- as long as they pay the premium in full.
In theory, the plan would allow employees to add a straight or gay live-in partner, a parent, or an adult child to their insurance, without any cost to the city.
"There's no general-fund money used for this," Small said.
Participants in the plan would save money, because the premium they would pay to join the city's group plan is about half of what they would pay to get individual insurance.
The concept was pitched to council members by a citizens' coalition led by John Weiss, publisher of the Independent.
On Monday, Mayor Lionel Rivera said the plan "sounds like a pretty good concept," though he cautioned that it could still cost the city money if insurance claims increase disproportionately as a result of adding participants to the city's plan. While some council members urged that the plan be included in the 2004 city budget, Rivera and others said the potential costs should be studied carefully first.
"I'm in no hurry," Rivera said.
Councilman Jerry Heimlicher, who voted to cut same-sex benefits but backs the new proposal, says extending benefits might help recruit and retain city employees at a time when salary freezes are looming.
He also believes it could change the monolithic image of the City Council as solidly right-wing, with the lone exception of Vice Mayor Richard Skorman -- the only council member who voted against cutting same-sex benefits in the first place.
"The characterization of the Council as 'eight alike-thinkers and Richard' is going to be proven wrong," Heimlicher said.