State Digest

January 11, 2008

Domestic partnerships defined

A Maryland legislative committee yesterday approved regulations that define domestic partnerships, despite the opposition of Republicans and conservative groups who said that classifying relationships between people who aren't married under state law could have far-reaching cultural and legal implications.

A joint House-Senate panel approved by a 12-4 vote the emergency regulations proposed by the Maryland Insurance Administration. The agency drafted the regulations in response to legislation approved last year that requires insurance companies to offer coverage to domestic partners if employers or individuals request it.

The hearing represented the opening salvo of a debate expected this year in the General Assembly over same-sex marriage. While the regulations don't specify that domestic partners be of the same sex, a broader debate is expected during this 90-day session on the rights of such couples.

Gay-rights advocates plan to push for legislation that would allow same-sex couples to marry. The advocates are moving their fight to the Assembly after Maryland's Court of Appeals upheld a statute in September defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

"What everyone is trying to tap dance around is the whole marriage question," said Sen. David R. Brinkley, the minority leader from Frederick County. "This is a way to contravene the decision of the courts in the fall."

Mary Ellen Russell, associate director of education and family life for the Maryland Catholic Conference, testified at the hearing that it is the full legislature's role to define domestic partnerships, not a committee's.

Insurance Commissioner Ralph S. Tyler testified yesterday that the domestic-partner regulations provide clarity for insurance companies and consumers. The emergency regulations lapse after six months, but Tyler said he would promulgate final regulations before then.

Tyler said that the law would have the biggest impact on individual insurance policies and small-business plans because most large public and private employers already provide domestic partner coverage.

Domestic partners were defined as unmarried people at least 18 years old who have been in a committed relationship for more than six months and who share a common residence.

Laura Smitherman

Anne Arundel

: Annapolis

Kearney leaving as O'Malley aide

Steve Kearney, a longtime top aide to Gov. Martin O'Malley, will leave the administration next week to launch a public affairs firm in Baltimore.

Kearney, save for a brief stint as spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore five years ago, has been at the center of O'Malley's political rise from city councilman to mayor to governor. He will join Damian O'Doherty, a former top aide to Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., in the new firm.

"I think I've reached the point where it's time for a new challenge, and after the special session, it seemed like good timing," Kearney said. "It's something I've been interested in - building a company - and I've reached the point where I think I can do more for my family, my church and my community by doing this."

Kearney O'Doherty Public Affairs will apply campaign-style tactics, such as grass-roots organizing and crisis communications, to public relations, Kearny said.

Kearney is the second major figure in the administration to leave. Former Intergovernmental Affairs Director Josh White, O'Malley's former campaign manager, is lobbying for Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan and Silver in Annapolis.

O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese will serve as interim communications director until a permanent replacement is made, the governor's office said.

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