Friday, February 18, 2011

HB 1492: Allow Top Tier Universities to Offer Competitive Benefits

HB 1492 by Rep. Naishtat (D-Austin) would allow the University of Texas and Texas A&M systems to extend insurance coverage to "qualified individuals". The universities would then be allowed to determine who "qualified individuals" are. The hope of Rep. Naishtat is that, if passed, this bill would allow UT and A&M to provide domestic partner benefits as well as allow employees to add other family members to their insurance plans. Currently only legally recognized spouses and dependent children are allowed to be on the University employee's insurance plans.

The bill specifically provides that the universities would not be required to pay the additional cost of adding "qualified individuals". Both university systems are currently required to pay one half of the cost of adding legally recognized spouses of staff to the insurance plan. So even if HB 1492 passed and the schools decided to allow the domestic partners of staff members to be "qualified individuals" queer people would still be paying double what their straight counter parts pay to add their spouses to their insurance plans .

Rep. Naishtat filed this legislation last session, in the hearing held by the House Insurance Committee he argued that the state's top tier university systems needed broader discretion in the insurance benefits they offered in order to attract top staff. Since institutions like Yale and Harvard offer similar benefits, Texas universities should too to remain competitive.

Unfortunately his arguments were not persuasive and the bill died in committee. The chairman of the House Insurance Committee, this session and last, is inveterate homophone John Smithee. It seems unlikely that this common sense legislation has any hope of passing so long as he remains chair.

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