A new two-year contract with Iowa state workers has been worked out that extends health and dental benefits to the workers' domestic partners, including those of gay employees, effective July 1. "We have members who need the coverage because they're in domestic partnerships," said Jan Corderman, state president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, which represents 20,548 state and court employees. The benefit was proposed in the past by AFSCME but has never been approved until now. Employees at Iowa's three state universities have had this benefit since July 2000. "We're talking about health insurance for our workers and their families," said state representative Todd Taylor, a Cedar Rapids Democrat and staff representative for AFSCME.
House majority leader Chuck Gipp (R-Decorah) said the provision will be controversial at the statehouse, even though it is something being done in other states. "This is a social policy that's now entering a state contract which hasn't been there before," Gipp said. The legislature does not have authority to adjust a contract established in collective bargaining between the state and its labor unions. Lawmakers can only decide later this year whether the state will provide enough money to cover all state workers.
Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled legislature have clashed in the past over gay rights. A spokeswoman for Vilsack, Amanda Crumley, on Wednesday defended the extension of health care benefits to domestic partners of state workers. "This involves a relationship between an employer and an employee," Crumley said. "We are competing for talent with many companies that do provide this benefit to their employees. This helps us to attract and retain quality people, just like major corporations."
The extension of benefits became public on the same day a senate committee debated a proposal prohibiting gays and lesbians from adopting children or becoming foster parents.