State offers same-sex domestic partner benefits in contract talks

The state of Minnesota is offering same-sex domestic partner benefits in the latest round of bargaining with state employees.

Republican lawmakers raised the issue Tuesday when they discussed the broader issue of the state's contracts with public employees. Documents supplied by the state employees' union and Republican lawmakers say state negotiators have offered those benefits in the latest round of talks with public employee unions.

The proposal, characterized as the last best-offer by the state of Minnesota, would allow the same-sex domestic partners of state employees to be eligible for health insurance benefits.

Republicans criticized the Dayton administration for bringing "divisive issues" into collective bargaining.

Republican Rep. Steve Drazkowski said same sex domestic partner benefits could cause a problem when the Legislature votes on whether to ratify the contracts.

"I find it very troubling that our governor is initiating actions to incorporate social issues, very divisive social issues, into these contract proposals," Drazkowski said.

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But DFL Sen. Scott Dibble disagrees. Dibble, an openly gay lawmaker, said same-sex domestic partner benefits are offered by many private employers who don't want to deprive some families of benefits.

"Anyone who says this is divisive is simply creating division of their own accord," Dibble said. "I think if you ask any Minnesotan they'll say 'Sure, this is fine. This is fair."

Supporters of the plan say it would provide the same benefits that are offered at private companies. They say all families are deserving of health care benefits. The Legislature stripped same-sex domestic partner benefits from the state contracts in 2003 during Tim Pawlenty's first year as governor. The benefits were included in a contract put forward when Jesse Ventura was governor.

The contracts have not been ratified yet since the state and unions are headed to mediation.