DART board expected to approve extension of benefits




Posted on October 7, 2013 at 10:00 PM

Updated Monday, Oct 7 at 10:40 PM

Should employers offer benefits for same-sex domestic partners?

DALLAS — It's been one year since discussion began on DART's "Health Benefit Equalization" plan. A vote is expected Tuesday, though supporters have learned to expect the unexpected from the transit agency.

"DART by its very nature is a deliberate organization that weighs everything carefully, so the fact that it took a year? It took a year," said Rafael McDonnell with a shrug.

But it was not an easy year for McDonnell and the Resource Center, where he is the Communication and Advocacy Manager. McDonnell helped DART craft the extension, which is being called a "plus one" plan.

It extends benefits to an unrelated adult living with a DART employee for at least one year, as long as that unrelated adult cannot get health insurance through any other means. The words "same-sex partners" are not used, because Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott says the state does not recognize same-sex partnerships.

DART is trying to strike a balance between Abbott's ruling and the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.

Opponents have raised questions about whether the program will be abused, or if it will cost too much.

"The cost actually turns out to be much less than budgeted," McDonnell said. "A good example is Parkland Hospital. When Parkland first added competitive benefits, they estimated the cost would be $100,000. Their actual costs the first year were less than $25,000."

The benefit extension plan seemed poised for passage in September, but two board members walked out, preventing a quorum from being present, which — in turn — prevented a vote from being taken.

"I think it took everyone by surprise," McDonnell said.

The chairman of DART's board of directors said Monday he thinks there will be a quorum present Tuesday, and he thinks the plan will pass.

But McDonnell and others are still encouraging supporters to show up at the board meeting in person. "I'm willing to let the process move forward, and we'll see what happens," he said.

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com