El Paso County Commissioners approve domestic partner benefits

Same-sex partners would be eligible

EL PASO, Texas - Update: After failing to gain enough votes the past two years, Commissioners Court voted 3-1 today to extend domestic partner benefits to gay and unmarried partners of County employees.

The move angered members of the group El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values, which also unsuccessfully fought the City in its attempt to extend the benefits to its employees last year.

One member of the group, Sal Gomez, shouted "Socialists! Communists! Dictatorship!" following the vote.

Led by County Judge Veronica Escobar, who brought the issue forward three consecutive years, Commissioners Tania Chozet and Anna Perez also voted for extending the benefits to gay and unmarried partners of County employees. Only Commissioner Dan Haggerty voted against it. Commissioner Sergio Lewis was absent.

Haggerty said his decision was based on the cost, which was estimated at less than $24,000 a year in a County presentation. Haggerty said the cost is unknown at this point and could be much higher.

Previous story: El Paso County Commissioners are taking up whether to include domestic partner health benefits in the 2013 budget.

The proposal is on Monday's Commissioner Court agenda. According to the definition of a domestic partner in the documentation attached to the county agenda, same-sex partners would also qualify for benefits. It's estimated that the fiscal impact of adding domestic partner benefits to the county would be $23,905.

It's a familiar issue in the El Paso area. El Paso's City Council stirred up positive and negative reaction when it allowed domestic and same-sex partners of city employees to take part in health coverage in July 2009. The issue spawned an election to throw out council's decision, a reinstatement of benefits by the city and several recall efforts against the mayor and other city council representatives.

This isn't the first time the county has broached this issue, either. In August 2009, a month after the city included benefits for domestic partners in its budget, the county attempted the same move. It was ultimately deleted from the agenda. It was on the agenda last year but failed to be added to budget discussions in a vote by the commissioners.

County Commissioners meet at 9:30 a.m. Monday.

Read the agenda item yourself under "Related Content."

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