A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers introduced legislation in both houses of Congress last week that seeks to provide domestic-partner benefits to federal employees.
The Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act was introduced May 20 in the U.S. House of Representatives by openly gay Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and in the Senate by Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).
The legislation calls for committed same-sex partners of federal employees to be eligible for all the medical benefits currently available to heterosexual married spouses, including long-term care, family and medical leave and retirement benefits. Under the bill, domestic partners would also have to follow the same federal guidelines as spouses of employees, such as anti-nepotism rules and financial-disclosure guidelines.
About 57 percent of the country’s Fortune 500 companies currently offer domestic-partner benefits to LGBT employees, and Baldwin said the federal government needs to heighten its employment policies in order to build the most qualified workforce.
“Extending benefits to the domestic partners of federal employees is more than a matter of fairness,” Baldwin said. “As a majority of Fortune 500 companies have already demonstrated, equality and diversity in the workplace boost productivity and help attract and keep the most qualified employees.”
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the bill would allow the federal government to “keep pace with other top employers” as well as “ensure that the government has access to the top talent on the same basis as the nation’s leading corporations.”
Sixteen state governments, soon to include Pennsylvania, also offer such benefits.
Following a policy change made last year by the Pennsylvania Employees Benefit Trust Fund, beginning July 1, state employees will be able to obtain the same medical benefits for their same- or opposite-sex domestic partners that are currently available to heterosexual spouses of state employees. The PEBTF oversees benefits for more than 140,000 active and retired state employees.
A study by UCLA’s Williams Institute estimated that more than 30,000 federal employees are currently in committed same-sex relationships with non-federal employees.
The Congressional Budget Office determined that the implementation of the legislation would increase the cost of federal benefits programs by less than .5 percent, amounting to a 10-year expenditure of about $670 million.
The House bill is now in the Judiciary Committee and the Senate version was sent to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
The House bill was introduced with 64 cosponsors — none of whom are from Pennsylvania — and the Senate bill garnered 23 cosponsors, including local Sen. Robert Casey (D).
Lieberman, former Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and 20 cosponsors introduced the Senate bill in the last legislative session, along with Baldwin and 90 cosponsors in the House. Both bills died in committee when the last session ended.