LINCOLN, Neb. – Homosexual couples could qualify for the same employee benefits as heterosexual couples at the University of Nebraska under a proposal pitched Friday to the university’s board of regents.
University President J.B. Milliken said the proposal would help the university’s efforts with recruitment, retention and employee satisfaction, and bring it in line with its fellow schools in the Big Ten.
“I do believe that there is a competitive imperative here,” Milliken said, according to the Lincoln Journal Star (http://bit.ly/s52cKM). “I also believe there’s a basic issue of treating our employees equitably.”
The “employee plus one” proposal would extend employee benefits to a qualifying, unrelated adult who shares an employee’s household, and with whom the employee is financially interdependent. It also would include family coverage for the employee, the other adult and their dependent children.
NU officials have estimated that extending health insurance benefits to partners who qualify would cost between $750,000 and $1.5 million annually, based on an estimated 100-200 new employee sign-ups. Total costs for the university’s health insurance plan are greater than $120 million.
David Lechner, the university’s vice president for Business and Finance said the benefits wouldn’t violate Nebraska’s Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman said he’s received letters from UNL employees who left the university because it didn’t offer domestic partner benefits. Employee candidates have declined job offers for the same reason, he said.
“The fact that we are in the Big Ten now makes our absence of these benefits more visible, much more visible to the marketplace,” he said.
Regent Randy Ferlic of Omaha said he was concerned about the cost of offering such benefits.
“I have no problem with the benefits,” he said. “My only problem is with funding them.”
The benefits expansion proposal was introduced for discussion only at the Board of Regents’ meeting on Friday. The issue may be considered for action at the Regents’ next regular meeting on Dec. 8. If approved, the benefits would become available beginning July 1, 2012.
During time allotted for public comment Friday, Omaha Christian Academy maintenance worker Peter Smagacz said homosexuality is a deviant lifestyle and should not be condoned by state education leaders. He urged regents to ignore the actions of other universities when considering domestic partner benefits.
“We are not here to keep up with the Joneses in the Big Ten,” he said. “We are here to educate Nebraska.”