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Board of Regents to decide whether to extend benefits to same-sex couples

By   /   June 1, 2012  /   6 Comments

Next week the University of Nebraska Board of Regents will consider expanding benefits to employees’ domestic partners. 

NU President J.B. Milliken first proposed extending benefits to same-sex and opposite-sex unmarried couples in October, saying it would help the university system be more competitive and fair. But the board delayed a vote on the so-called “employee plus one” proposal, and it will now be up for consideration next Friday.

Under the plan, the university would allow an “adult designee” who shares an employee’s household and is financially interdependent to get family coverage, along with their dependents. They would be able to receive health, dental and vision insurance and sick and bereavement leave and be eligible for a dependent scholarship program.

“It’s a competitive issue for us,” Milliken said during a press conference today. “We also think it’s the right thing to do.”

All four NU chancellors, the university-wide Fringe Benefits Committee and faculty senates and student government organizations on all four campuses support the proposal. However, Milliken said he didn’t know whether the Board of Regents would approve the plan.

“At the end of the day, the board will make a decision based on what its members think is the best decision for the university,” he told reporters.

Since unveiling the proposal last fall, the university obtained a legal opinion from an Omaha law firm on whether the plan would be constitutional, in light of Nebraska’s Defense of Marriage Act, which bans same-sex marriage. The law firm said it would be legal since the plan doesn’t refer to civil unions, domestic partnerships or other similar same sex relationships and doesn’t confer any of the traditional rights of marriage upon plan participants.

Milliken said courts in other states with same-sex marriage bans — such as Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Montana and Kentucky — have upheld plans offering benefits to same-sex couples. He said adopting his proposal would bring Nebraska in line with comparable higher ed institutions — noting that Nebraska is the only Big Ten institution not to offer such benefits. He also said 80 percent of Fortune 100 companies and almost 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer health insurance benefits to employee partners.

He said the proposal is consistent with the university’s nondiscrimination policy, which includes sexual orientation and marital status.

NU officials estimate the cost of the proposal at $750,000 to $1.5 million based on an estimated increase in enrollment of 1 to 2 percent, or about 100 to 200 new employee sign-ups. Extending benefits would require a $1 to $3 per month increase in employee health insurance premiums. If approved, the benefits would become available in January. 

Milliken also announced a 3.75 percent tuition increase for the upcoming academic year as part of the budget that will also be considered by the Board of Regents next week. Tuition increases at the University of Nebraska have averaged less than 5.5 percent over the past seven years, compared to the 7 percent national average for public four-year institutions.

The budget proposal also includes an increase of up to 2.5 percent in the salary pool for faculty and staff outside the faculty collective bargaining units at the Omaha and Kearney campuses. The funds are to be distributed based on merit and performance.

Reported by Deena Winter, deena@nebraskawatchdog.org.

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Deena Winter is a reporter for NebraskaWatchdog.org. Contact her at deena@nebraskawatchdog.org and follow her on Twitter @DeenaNEWatchdog.

  • Robb

    I could not agree more with President Milliken. This is the right and fair thing for NU to do. All other universities in the Big Ten offer similar benefit programs except for NU. This is embarrassing. However, I’m worried the board of regents will be swayed by those in Nebraska who believe gay people should continue to be treated as second class.

  • Ikon

    Just curious if this includes declared OPPOSITE sex domestic partners who are also discriminated against in Fly Over Country but not in most progressive places. Actually I believe that that is the case with this proposal. Anyone having further info, kindly advise & anyone interested in organizing to positively demonstrate/protest the Regents kindly let it be known. I can be reached through http://www.youtube.com/rrtv3

  • http://msn.com Jason3

    Nebraska wanted to be in the Big 10…let’s be in all the way….not just in the sports dept…I agree with President Milliken….go for it!

  • Watching From Lincoln

    “Under the plan, the university would allow an “adult designee” who shares an employee’s household and is financially interdependent to get family coverage, along with their dependents. They would be able to receive health, dental and vision insurance and sick and bereavement leave and be eligible for a dependent scholarship program.”

    Pretty straight forward (NO pun intended) in the language. No reference to same or opposite gender, just an “adult designee” who is financially interdependent with the University employee. Pretty much covers any sort of living arrangement between two involved adults and their respective minor dependents (if any). Go for it, University of Nebraska, join the Big Ten and the Twenty First Century, even if many of the Regents and people of Nebraska are still stuck by dogma in the twelfth century and also believe the world is flat, too. Will Regent Tim Clare vote for what is right, or what is politically expedient according to his business cohort, Mark Fahlson?

  • Truth-or-Dare

    There have four posts and not a single one of them mentions the cost! Isn’t that amazing? No matter what the fiscal picture looks like across the State, our University is proposing more significant spending with no proposed way to pay for it . . oh wait, maybe that is the latest reason for a tuition hike! Interestingly enough, the State, the educational system and even we personally set a really poor example for our young people: IF you can’t afford something, you SHOULDN’T buy it!!! Regardless of what the popular myth is, money does NOT grow on trees in the taxpayers’ backyards!!!

    We are looking at a shortfall at the State and local levels of government which means we will have to tighten our belts to meet our obligations, and what is the University doing? They are proposing the expenditure of “$750,000 to $1.5 million to add about 100 to 200 new employee sign-ups, AND extending benefits would require a $1 to $3 per month increase in employee health insurance premiums.” One can only assume that being able to receive this kind of benefit is indeed better than receiving a raise which would at least be taxed!!

    So if we are only “adding partners to the current policy holders, why is there going to be such a large increase in premium??? If you divide $1.5 million by 200, that means it is going to cost $7,500 PER PERSON added and the premium the employee unit will pay for that increased benefit will be a maximum of $36 a year. WHO pays the $7,464 cost per addition PER YEAR???

    Folks, I do NOT object to providing that benefit to employees . . . I could care less who is in their family unit. BUT I am concerned that at a time when we have basically no extra money. So ultimately WHO picks up the tab for this program?

    Another consideration should be how long will it be before we see declining enrollments because no one can afford to go to college anymore??? And how significant will the decrease have to become BEFORE the higher education institutions face the stark reality that at some point their ever increasing budgets are not sustainable?

  • Kuhl

    And this is one reason why tuition is being raised 3.7% and why my kids will have a harder time going to college. We offer free tuition to illegals and affirmative action that keeps qualified students out of some programs just so the program can meet some lofty government ideal of “equality”.

    Perhaps the board should concentrate on educating students to be prepared for life and not making political statements using tuition funds.

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