Bill extending health benefits to adult designees of state employees is killed in the House

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A bill that would allow state employees to share health benefits with an unmarried adult designee was tabled on Feb. 29 in a Utah House committee. In place of a spouse, the bill would have allowed same-sex partners to access health benefits but would have also extended benefits to other financially co-dependent adults living together. This means unmarried opposite-sex partners, as well as differently-abled people and aging parents.

Judy Hansen, a 25-year employee of the state of Utah, spoke to the committee about how the bill could help her adult son, who is 30 years old. He sustained an injury when he was a child and cannot function on his own. Under HB64, Hansen would have been able to add her son to her employee health insurance plan.

“A bill like this would help me and my family so I wouldn’t have to worry about my disabled son who is going to live with me for the rest of my life,” Hansen said.

Gayle Ruzicka of the Utah Eagle Forum said that the bill would lead to homosexual marriage in Utah because it is a slippery slope and allowing rights for gays would inevitably lead to gay marriage.

“We wouldn’t want to do anything that would lead us in that direction. And this right here is marriage-like benefits. We value marriage here and marriage has always been for people who are married and their dependent children. Beyond that we have never done this as a state. We do not want to this and we do not want to do anything that would violate Amendment 3,” Ruzicka said.

Laura Bunker, a representative from United Families Utah, said that marriage is better than all other relationships and legal benefits should reserved only for married couples.

“Non-married cohabitating relationships bring heavy physical, emotional and economic costs to society,” Bunker said. “While we acknowledge that many different living relationships exist we cannot allow the state of Utah to recognize them.”

Without citing any sources, relying instead on their own conjecture, Bunker and Gail said allowing unmarried couples or other adult designees would somehow harm families.

However, the bill did not target the public sector and was specifically targeted to state employees, Doughty said. There is no more mandated coverage to this bill than other existing health care rules, he added.

Citing a Salt Lake City court case, where similar benefits exist for city employees, Doughty pointed out that Utah courts have ruled health care is not related to marriage and is instead a simple prerequisite for employment.

“In Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County, where this program already exists, more people who are not gay partners are using this benefit, overwhelmingly so,” he said.

The bill was tabled in the House Business and Labor Committee with a 13-0 vote.

Seth Bracken

Seth Bracken is the editor of QSaltLake

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