AISD Reverses on Domestic Partner Benefits
District will review decision in wake of recent SCOTUS rulings
By Brandon Watson, 10:45AM, Fri. Jun. 28, 2013
Although millions across the country are still celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, it's business as usual for Austin Independent School District employees in domestic partnerships.
AISD has reversed their earlier promise to offer domestic partner benefits in the wake of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's April 29 opinion that such offerings violate the Texas constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
In a letter released to employees Thursday, AISD human resources head Michael Houser wrote that Abbott's opinion as well as Rep. Drew Springer's House Bill 1568 – seeking to deny funding and accreditation to districts offering domestic partner benefits – altered the district's previously announced plans. AISD's legal council, he wrote, "advised the district to wait until the Supreme Court issued rulings on two cases before making a final decision on extending health coverage to domestic partnerships."
According to Houser's letter, the decision to not offer benefits was made on April 30, well before the Supreme Court was expected to deliver an opinion on the DOMA and Proposition 8 cases. On that day, AISD issued a statement saying that "AISD is aware of yesterday's opinion by the attorney general's office. The district has been discussing adding domestic partnership insurance coverage as part of the budget process for next year. Given today's opinion, the district will seek further guidance and input from its legal counsel and employee groups to identify the appropriate next steps." Houser's letter indicates that the decision to not offer domestic partner benefits was made later that same day.
In light of the failed passage of Springer's bill and the SCOTUS opinions, Houser says AISD will again be reviewing the policy. "Now that the Supreme Court rulings have been issued, and subject to extensive due diligence that must occur, it is possible that something may change over the next few months and allow the district to return to its original intent of offering domestic partnerships coverage. AISD will continue discussions and consultation with the district’s joint insurance committee and our employee association representatives on this matter."
Pflugerville ISD, who voted to offer domestic partner benefits in December, has not changed course. Five employees signed up to be covered during the last enrollment period.