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Senate committee approves domestic partner benefits

Dec. 16, 2009 - 06:00AM   |  
By REBECCA NEAL   |   Comments
Sen. Joseph Lieberman said he won't bring the bill to the Senate floor until the Office of Personnel Management provides a list of potential cost savings.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman said he won't bring the bill to the Senate floor until the Office of Personnel Management provides a list of potential cost savings. (HEATHER WINES / GANNETT NEWS SERVICE)

A Senate committee approved a bill Dec. 16 to grant domestic partners of federal employees the same benefits as married spouses.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted 8-1 in favor of S 1102, which would give domestic partners access to the same health, retirement and pension benefits as married spouses of federal employees.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., the committee's chairman, said the legislation supports "equal benefits for equal work" and puts the committee "on the right side of history."

"Federal employees should not have to choose between their commitment to federal public service and their commitment to their families because they get fewer benefits than federal employees in opposite-sex relationships or private employers," said Lieberman, adding that more than 10,000 private-sector companies offer domestic partner benefits.

The bill is not expected to pass the full Senate, however, due to opposition from conservative Republicans. Just one senator can block voting on a bill. A House committee approved a companion bill, HR 2517, in November, and the full House is expected to approve it next year.

Lieberman said he won't bring the bill to the Senate floor until the Office of Personnel Management provides a list of potential cost savings. At a hearing before the committee earlier this year, OPM Director John Berry promised to find cost savings in order to offset the bill's costs and make it deficit neutral.

Ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she was disappointed that OPM hadn't followed through on its promise to provide the needed offsets to pass the bill.

OPM did not return requests for comment.

The bill will cost the federal government $38 million in 2010 and $633 million over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

"Of course it will [increase costs], but in an amount that I consider to be well worth what we achieve in terms of capabilities to attract the best possible employees to federal service and righting the scales of justice in terms of federal employee policy," Lieberman said.

The bill would provide same-sex domestic partners access to health insurance, long-term care insurance and retirement benefits. Employees could take family and medical leave to care for their same-sex partners, but partners would also be subject to civil service laws applying to spouses, such as anti-nepotism laws and financial disclosure requirements.

Also approved by the committee:

S 1830, which would require agencies to designate a member of the Senior Executive Service as chief conservation officer. Designating a career civil servant will ensure meaningful energy policies are enacted and retained, even during presidential transitions, Collins said.

"We've found in the past that the federal government issues policies, the president issues executive orders, but no one is designated to be responsible for carrying out the energy savings," she said.

S 2868, which allows the American Red Cross to purchase from federal supply schedules. It also allows state and federal governments to use the federal supply schedules to prepare or respond to disasters.

The nominations of Elizabeth Harman to be assistant administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Grayling Williams to be director of the Homeland Security Department's Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement.

Tell us what you think. E-mail rneal@federaltimes.com?subject=SameSex_121609%20FTR">Rebecca Neal.

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