Opinion and Editorials

EDITORIAL: City benefits bill signals progress

June 9, 2012

Congratulations to Indianapolis City-County Councilor Angela Mansfield and the five co-sponsors of her proposal to provide health and pension benefits to city employees’ domestic partners.

The measure, introduced and assigned to a council committee on June 4, is still a long way from passing, but we are taking it as a hopeful sign that city leaders recognize the importance of welcoming families of all kinds to Indianapolis.

Mansfield, a Democrat, cited the need to attract and retain talented personnel to government jobs, no doubt a crucial consideration. But extending public benefits to unmarried couples—including those in same-sex relationships—also sends a message to the community about being willing to embrace change.

Mayor Greg Ballard and Republican councilors already have made noises about the cost of expanding benefits, but Indianapolis simply cannot afford to hold tight to old ways of doing business as the rest of the country passes us by.

Been there, done that.

The citywide smoking ban that took effect June 1 moved through the legislative process with embarrassingly glacial speed, and public transportation may well be delivered via hovercraft before state lawmakers embrace mass transit.

And despite the signs of progress, Indianapolis isn’t exactly charting new territory on the benefits front. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2011 National Compensation Survey found that about a third of state and local government workers already have access to health insurance for their unmarried partners—slightly more than in private industry.

In fact, IBJ’s Kathleen McLaughlin reported May 25 that Mansfield looked to the Town of Lawrence and various Indiana universities, most of which offer some kind of domestic partner benefit, for guidance in drafting her plan.

Proposal 213 defines domestic partners as “two adults who have chosen to share one another’s lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring, who have shared a residence for at least 365 days, and who have agreed to be jointly responsible for basic living expenses.”

Partners, who must sign a “declaration of domestic partnership,” would be eligible for health insurance and pension benefits.

The city has 7,451 employees eligible for health insurance benefits, and about 87 percent of them already are enrolled, Controller Jeff Spalding told IBJ. With spouses and children, total enrollment is 15,181.

City officials absolutely should investigate the expense associated with adding beneficiaries, but it’s not likely to be a deal breaker. A 2005 study by human-resources consultant Hewitt Associates found just 1 percent of eligible employees elected coverage for a domestic partner, on average.

The additional costs will be negligible, and any argument to the contrary is nonsense.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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