Bill Targets Domestic Partner Benefits in School

The first Texas school district to offer health insurance benefits to domestic partners is under fire from a state lawmaker, and the penalty could hit the school where it counts — in the pocketbook. 

State Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, filed House Bill 1568, on Wednesday. It would cut off health care funding to Texas school districts that allow employees to add a domestic partner to their health care plan, targeting Pflugerville Independent School District, which extended those benefits last year.  

The board of trustees of Pflugerville ISD made history in December 2012 with a 5-1 vote, becoming the first school district in Texas to offer health benefits for domestic partners. 

“I think the money we give to educate our kids should go to the kids and not trying to expand social benefits that we decided in 2005 was unconstitutional,” Springer said Thursday, referring to the Defense of Marriage Act of 2005, which defined marriage in the Texas Constitution as between one man and one woman. "We're not taking away all the funding, just the 7.5 percent that goes to the health benefit plan."

Opponents of Springer’s bill argue that it mischaracterizes the school's health plan policy. “No tax dollars are being used,” said Chuck Smith, president of Equality Texas, an LGBT lobbying group. Smith said that no money is taken from funding the classroom, but rather the policy “allows access to the benefit plan, but the employee still pays the premium.”

"It’s yet another legislative overreach, and it seeks to undermine local control,” Smith said of Springer's bill.

Amanda Brim, a spokeswoman for Pflugerville ISD, said they had not yet reviewed the legislation. “We don’t have enough information to have an opinion yet,” she said. 

Conservative social group Texas Values released a statement supporting Springer’s bill and calling the creation and recognition of domestic partnerships a “clear violation of the Texas Constitution.”

Springer said he did not plan to file similar legislation targeting cities, including Austin, El Paso and Dallas, which also offer domestic partnership benefits to their employees.

“That is troubling for me, but in this case I want to get money to the kids,” he said. “If someone wants to file a bill like that, I would take a good look at it.” 

State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, also questioned the constitutionality of Pflugerville's policy in November, requesting the Texas attorney general's office issue an opinion on government entities extending insurance benefits to domestic partners. The attorney general's office is expected to render a decision by May 3.

Springer said he is positive about his bill’s chances in the Legislature, pointing to the 22 legislators who have signed on as co-authors. 

“It will definitely come to the floor for a vote,” he said. 

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