Mecklenburg County approves domestic partner benefits
Beginning in 2011, Mecklenburg County will offer domestic partner benefits to county employees in gay relationships. County commissioners voted 6-to-3 last night to expand the county's coverage. WFAE's Lisa Miller has more: The vote came after two hours of emotional debate. Dozens of people on both sides of the issue attended the meeting. A handful of them spoke and then each commissioner had their say. In the end, Democrats voted for the domestic partner benefits and Republicans voted against them. Commissioner Karen Bentley pointed to a report compiled by county staff that says there are no studies that measure whether domestic partner benefits make it easier to recruit employees. "I just don't think this holds water," said Bentley. "I don't think that we're behind the curve on this. I don't think that there's an outcry that there's a significant demand internally or from the exterior marketplace that we offer these benefits. So for those reasons among others I will not be supporting this motion tonight." The county expects less than 1 percent of employees will enroll in the benefits program. In order to receive domestic partner benefits, gay couples will have to prove that they live together, are financially interdependent, and aren't married to anyone else. The county's Human Resources department expects the expanded coverage will cost the county less than $400,000 a year." Commission Chairman Jennifer Roberts said the decision shouldn't be dictated by demand or cost, but by a desire to treat employees equally. "What we're doing is lawful. It is fair. It values our employees," said Roberts. "It helps them in a tough economy if one loses a job. It helps them retain benefits and we know in the end that people are healthier and that health care is less expensive when people are covered." Mecklenburg County will become one of seven municipalities in the state to offer health care benefits to domestic partners of employees. The others include the cities of Durham, Greensboro and the town of Chapel Hill.