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UGA council to vote on domestic partner benefits

Domestic partners of University of Georgia employees would receive benefits that match those offered to married spouses under a proposal the University Council will consider Thursday.

The council previously approved similar measures that asked the state Board of Regents to fund the program, but the regents never acted on those requests.

The current proposal would not have to go before the Regents because it calls on UGA to provide the money to offer health insurance and voluntary benefits to unmarried partners. It would benefit same-sex couples and couples of opposite sexes who have chosen not to be legally married, said Janet Frick, who chairs the council’s Human Resources Committee.

The council is expected to pass the measure, but the issue is what happens next.

The council is made up of faculty, administrators, students and staff who advise President Michael Adams on academics and other policy matters. He is not obligated to act on the matter.

Adams does not comment on items before the council until they take action, spokeswoman Cynthia Hoke said.

The proposal calls for the benefits to take effect no later than Jan. 1, 2014. Adams is scheduled to step down as president June 30 and some outgoing college presidents are hesitant to set new policy their successors would be obligated to implement.

Another issue is cost. Nearly all state agencies, including public colleges, have been told to cut spending by 3 percent this year and next. UGA has said it would eliminate about 130 jobs as part of its plan to make the cuts.

Frick estimated UGA would spend about $270,000 a year on the benefits. The projection assumes one-half of 1 percent of those eligible would participate, the trend at other colleges that offer this benefit, she said.

“It’s a small price to pay to make benefits equal for all employees,” Frick said. “Not doing this makes us stand out in a bad way.”

Five schools in the University System of Georgia — including Georgia Tech and Georgia State — offer voluntary benefits such as dental coverage, vision care or supplemental life insurance to domestic partners of employees, according to the proposal before the council.

The plan says about 75 percent of UGA’s peer colleges and schools it aspires to be like offer health insurance benefits. That list includes the University of Florida, Ohio State University and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

Frick said UGA could provide the benefits without using state money. The University of Florida uses federal contracts, grants and discretionary funds from its foundation. The University of Wyoming uses revenue from its external research funding to offer vouchers that equal what the state contributes to the group insurance plan for spouses and dependents.