A proposal to provide health insurance to unmarried, live-in partners of University of Nebraska employees is far from certain to receive NU Board of Regents approval next week.
Regents contacted gave diverse responses to the proposal, which NU President J.B. Milliken unveiled and which is on the board's agenda next Friday.
The proposal, called “Plus One,” would cover both same-sex and heterosexual partners.
“I'm voting for it,” said Regent Chuck Hassebrook of Lyons, Neb.
“I want to know the figures, and they've not spelled them out for me,” said Regent Randy Ferlic of Omaha. Ferlic said his hesitation had nothing to do with gay or lesbian partners receiving NU health insurance. “My issue is truly cost.”
Milliken said Friday afternoon that the matter came down to two basic points.
First, NU needs to offer the benefit to remain competitive with similar universities for talented faculty and staff, he said.
“We also think it's the right thing to do,” Milliken said.
He estimated the cost at $750,000 to $1.5 million to cover 100 to 200 people.
All employees would pay a $1 to $3 monthly premium hike.
Milliken said all Big Ten schools offer the benefit except the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He also said the four faculty senates in the NU system, all four campus chancellors and all four campus student governments have conveyed their support.
Regent Kent Schroeder of Kearney said NU staffers and faculty members tend to want him to support it, while constituents in his district tend to oppose it.
“I have not made up my mind yet,” Schroeder said.
Regent Bob Whitehouse of Papillion said he leaned toward supporting the domestic-partner benefit.
Whitehouse repeated an argument made by NU administrators — that ConAgra, Mutual of Omaha, Peter Kiewit & Sons and some other major companies in the state offer it. NU officials said more than 80 percent of Fortune 100 companies provide the benefit.
Meanwhile, at least three regents, Chairman Jim McClurg of Lincoln, Bob Phares of North Platte and Tim Clare of Lincoln, said they would wait until next week to state a position.
“I am concerned about cost,” Clare said. The proposed budget calls for $2.2 million in cuts, he noted, yet the Plus One proposal is estimated to cost at least $750,000.
Regents Howard Hawks of Omaha couldn't be reached Friday evening.
The university asked an Omaha law firm, Fraser Stryker, to examine whether the benefit would stand the test of constitutionality, given that the state has a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
The analysis found, NU said, that it did pass the test in part because the plan doesn't refer to civil unions, nor does it confer marriage rights on plan participants.
Pat Tetreault, director of UNL's resource center for gay and transgender students, said all employees should have access to similar benefits when possible.
Tetreault, who said she spoke only for herself, applauded Milliken for the proposal. “I totally agree with him and support him whole-heartedly.”
World-Herald staff writer Leslie Reed contributed to this report.
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