Springfield City Council questions Insurance Committee vote

Wed. January 4, 2012 5:56 AM by GoPride.com News Staff

Springfield, IL - The Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA), an Illinois Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) civil rights advocacy organization, testified before the Springfield City Council Committee of the Whole to assert the legal rights that have been gained by the Illinois Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act.

Last month the City Council was informed that the Joint Labor & Management Healthcare Committee had voted to keep the "status quo" and did not extend insurance benefits to couples in a civil union. The committee, which is comprised of two city council members, four mayoral appointees, and four designees of labor unions, voted unanimously in a closed September meeting to continue coverage excluding couples in a civil union based on the estimates of an actuarial firm .that the Mayor's Administration employed. The firm estimated that cost increase would be over $700,000.

This amount was based on assumptions that 65 couples would enroll in the city's self insured plan, when in fact, no one has applied for coverage based on entering into a civil union. The total number of people who have become united in civil union in the entire county is only slightly higher. Experts who testified said the likely number of couples who would ask for those benefits would be 1 to 3 couples.

Mayor J. Michael Houston, who had previously told the committee that municipalities were not required to follow the civil union law based on Federal ERISA guidelines, folded under public pressure reversing his opinion and held a press conference saying the city of Springfield needed to follow State law. Federal ERISA laws do not include municipalities.

"There are two separate issues here," Lowell Jaffe, political and policy director of The Civil Rights Agenda, told the city council. "The City Council is required to follow the statute. How the council chooses to pay for the coverage of couples who are united in civil union in Springfield is a separate issue."

In the end, the council questioned the transparency of the Insurance Committee, but all parties resolved to settle the matter in a way that would recognize the legitimacy of Civil Unions in Illinois.

"I am confident that the Committee will come to the right decision," said Anthony Martinez executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda. "We are dealing with these issues daily as employers throughout Illinois comply with the civil union law. Thankfully, as was pointed out by an Alderperson this evening, most public and private sector employers are doing the right thing by ensuring compliance with the Illinois Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act. We expect Springfield to do the same."

The Civil Rights Agenda will continue monitoring the situation in Springfield and will take the appropriate action necessary to ensure that couples in a civil union will have access to the benefits allowed to them under law.

From a news release