Gov. Rick Snyder’s press secretary said last week that if a bill banning cities and public schools from offering domestic partner benefits such as health care cleared the Legislature, he’d only sign the measure if public universities weren’t thrown into the pot.
Granted, there are plenty of reasons Snyder shouldn’t sign HB 4770 — civil rights issues, forcing locals and schools to chase away talent, equality, unnecessary local mandate, etc.
But let’s stick with Snyder’s argument. Because whether this sop to the whacky religious right (which had nothing to do with his election, BTW) actually becomes law is entirely in his hands. And since it’s unclear whether HB 4770 meets the standards Snyder himself laid out, he has no choice but to veto the bill.
Snyder’s partiality to universities likely comes from their constitutional autonomy. But as a former CEO at Gateway, he should understand the importance of offering benefit packages that encourage the retention and hiring of the creative class.
Gateway not only offers domestic partner benefits but features the following slogan on their human resources page for perspective applicants:
"Diversity is the heart of Gateway. Diversity of ideas. Diversity of customers. Diversity of products. And, most importantly, diversity of people."
Why Snyder thinks this vision should stop at public universities is a subject worth pursuing, but let’s stay on topic. Snyder doesn’t want HB 4770 to apply to universities. So does it?
Snyder’s own attorney told negotiators behind closed doors he didn’t think so.
But the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dave Agema, says universities are still included. He said the bill’s definition of "public employee" is consistent with the definition used in the Public Employment Relations Act, which does include universities. Agema’s colleagues in the House Republican caucus had his back on this point.
Sen. Mark Jansen, R-Gaines Twp., the bill chief advocate in the Senate, told the Grand Rapids Press, "When I read it. I thought it meant the public education arena, so I was thinking it included all of the education-type folks."
"At best, it is ambiguous," says the ACLU’s Jay Kaplan.
This means that when Attorney General Bill Schuette or one of those off-base "family" groups sues universities for not following "the law," they can claim the legislative intent was to keep them in.
Snyder would be leading state universities into a trap if he signs this bill. At best, it’ll needlessly cost the universities precious resources to fight the lawsuit. At worst, the universities will lose and Snyder will look like a double-crosser.
And for what?
The state and public entities aren’t saving any real money by throwing Michigan families into turmoil. A new domestic partner benefit made possible through the Civil Service Commission and organized labor is costing the state under $600,000 a year, a far cry from the $10 million some were claiming originally.
Rather, Michigan’s public entities are getter value by being able to draw from a wider poll of qualified candidates. It’s a cost benefit that the old CPA must recognize.
Snyder bent over backwards encouraging foreigners to come to/stay in Michigan during his last special message to the Legislature.
If Snyder wants the "best and the brightest" in Michigan, how can he talk about bringing in foreigners while pulling out a "Do Not Enter" signs for gays and lesbians.
Almost 60 percent of all Fortune 500 companies, one out of three employers — and 50 percent of employers with 5,000 or more workers — provides benefits to domestic partners of their employees. Twenty states and several hundred local jurisdictions extend benefits to their employees with same-sex domestic partners.
And this law would be cruelly canceling benefits that already exist. Real people will be harmed by this. Barbara Ramber of Kalamazoo has been receiving health benefits through her partner of 17 years, Jolinda Jach, who works for the city of Kalamazoo. If HB 4770 is signed into law, Ramber, who is going through treatment after being hit in the eye with a baseball and was recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, will be cut off of coverage.
Carol Kennedy has a family history of breast cancer. She’ll need to fork over $5,000 out of pocket for an individual health insurance policy if her partner of 25 years, an Ann Arbor teacher, has her domestic partner benefits yanked.
Michelle Corwin is a diabetic with high blood pressure. Affordable health insurance isn’t an option if her partner of 11 years, a Kent County child welfare supervisor, has her domestic benefits spiked.
If Michigan pulls away the welcome mat for these and other individuals, there are plenty of other places out of state eager to have them.
Domestic partner benefits are becoming more common than less common. As a successful businessman, Snyder must know Michigan is in no position to repel quality prospects, chase away quality employees and devastate families because a few Bible-thumpers are grossed out by gay sex.
For years, these same reactionaries have hidden behind Proposal 2 of 2004 for their bigoted positions, saying when voters agreed that marriage is between "one man and one woman" they were really declaring open season on gay and lesbians. That the state must go out of its way to make special obstacles for gay couples and their families, is to treat them as second-class citizens in every legal way possible.
It’s 180 degrees from what advocates of Proposal 2 said before the election. When they were courting voters, advocates claimed this didn’t impact domestic partner benefits, that they just didn’t want gay marriage in Michigan.
Oh, how the story evolves. Kind of like the language in HB 4770: This doesn’t impact universities. We don’t think it impacts universities. We don’t know if it impacts universities. It may impact universities. It does impact universities.
Snyder can hop on gay bashers’ well-worn corkscrew of deception. He can cheapen his message that improving Michigan’s business climate by attracting quality talent is a top priority.
Or Snyder can be consistent. He can stand up to the bullies. He can veto HB 4770. He can send a message that scoring cheap political points on an historically oppressed population to the glee of an ever-shrinking pool of small-minded people isn’t on his agenda.
If Snyder is a man of his word, he will do just that.