Same-sex pairs due benefits in Howard

County policy change is to take effect July 1

May 27, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County employees in same-sex domestic partnerships will be eligible for full health benefits, starting July 1, the Robey administration announced yesterday after months of internal deliberation.

Raquel Sanudo, the county's chief administrative officer, said the administration took the action, which will not require County Council scrutiny, as a matter of fairness.

"As an organization, we believe in equity across our work force, when and wherever possible," she said. "This change will afford those employees whose union is not currently, legally recognizable the same health insurance benefits as others currently employed by the county."

Howard County joins Baltimore, Montgomery County, the District of Columbia, Takoma Park and Greenbelt in extending the benefits.

Robert S. Lazarewicz, Howard's human resources director, said the experience in other places that have made the change shows the cost would be negligible, though he had no firm estimate. Sanudo said several health insurance carriers would not charge more for same-sex-couple benefits.

"It appears about 1 percent would be eligible," Lazarewicz said, meaning about 20 of Howard's 2,000 workers. The new policy would not apply to Howard Community College or county school system employees.

Collette Roberts, co-founder of the Howard chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), said of the policy change, "We're very, very pleased."

County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican, said, "We've [County Council members] not been briefed on it at all. To date, I've still not been told what it entails, who is eligible and what was the cost. It's premature to roll out the program."

To qualify, applicants will have to make a declaration of partnership, meaning among other things that they have been in a committed relationship for at least one year, are of the same sex, and confirm that they would marry if that were legal.

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