With little advance fanfare, Bexar County Commissioners will decide today whether to follow in the footsteps of the City of San Antonio and offer employees domestic partnership benefits.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Precinct 2 Commissioner Paul Elizondo placed the item on the Court’s agenda, which would allow county employees to add a “Plus One Qualifying Adult” to their coverage. Approval of the measure would bring Bexar County in line with San Antonio, Houston, Austin, Fort Worth, El Paso, and hundreds of other cities and counties in Texas and nationwide.
The city’s action two years ago broke new ground and met with some protest. The lack of public debate over the county’s agenda today might reflect resistance to such measures is declining with each new conforming public entity. Many of San Antonio’s major private sector employers have offered such benefits for years, while 62% of Fortune 500 businesses offer such benefits, according to studies by the Human Rights Campaign, .
During the 2012 city budget discussions, Mayor Julián Castro and City Manager Sheryl Sculley opened the door for the city to offer domestic partnership benefits for city employees. While some opposed the move on political or religious grounds, a majority of citizens favored the action. Local employers, including Rackspace and Spurs Sports and Entertainment, came forward with letters of support, citing their need to attract talented young workers to the city and providing family stability for current employees.
County commissioners will consider a similar measure tomorrow, albeit under and different approach. Should the measure pass, the county benefit will differ from the city policy, thanks to a 2013 Attorney General’s opinion after the Pflugerville ISD became one of the first public school districts in Texas to offer domestic partner benefits. The district’s actions prompted an inquiry from Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), who said such benefits violated the state’s ban on same-sex marriages.
In the opinion, the Attorney General stated such benefits were, in fact, in violation of the constitutional ban passed by Texas voters in 2005. However, the opinion allowed jurisdictions in Texas to offer a different sort of benefits, commonly known as “Plus One,” where an employee could add any legally qualifying adult demonstrating financial interdependence through some form of documentation.
Simply put, if an employee had some sort of financial support connection with a person, such as an aging grandmother, a sibling, or a partner in a committed relationship, those people could be covered under the benefits plan.
With one window closed and another now open, El Paso County became the first such jurisdiction to offer the new class of benefits to its employees. According to the article by the El Paso Times, “To qualify, the employee and their ‘plus one’ must have lived together for at least a year and demonstrate they share finances, such as a mortgage or banking account.” Austin ISD followed a month after. Since then, no other jurisdiction in Texas has taken action, until now.
During the Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio’s endorsement forum, Judge Wolff opened the door in his remarks to members. Wolff cited the measures taken by El Paso County and said his office had been in conversation with administrators in that county about the measures they had taken. At that time, Wolff said he would be introducing a similar measure in Commissioners Court to provide “Plus One” benefits to county employees.
While no cost estimate has been cited for the measure, the city’s measure amounted to less than $300,000 a year, based on the expected number of employees taking advantage of the new classification. Even though opponents have cited the possibility of fraudulent claims, “Plus One” policies require participating employees to document financial interdependence with their designated fellow adult.
The agenda item is scheduled for afternoon consideration. Even with little media coverage of the Wolff-Elizondo initiative, today’s Commissioner Court session likely will be standing room only as supporters and opponents alike pack the house. None of the commissioners has spoken out against the measure, so it should pass easily.
Randy Bear is a 20-plus years San Antonio resident, transplanted from Little Rock to join the ranks of USAA in Information Technology. Over the last two decades, he’s been involved in a variety of civic and political activities, including work with San Antonio Sports, KLRN, Keep San Antonio Beautiful, Fiesta San Antonio, and a brief period serving on the staff of former City Councilman Reed Williams.