Regents to consider budget, 'Plus One' proposals today

At a meeting today, the University of Nebraska Board of Regents will consider a proposal to expand eligibility for participation in the university’s benefits program to include employees’ same-sex and opposite-sex partners.

The regents will also consider the 2012-13 operating budget, which includes proposed tuition increases of 3.75 percent, and up to 2.5 percent increases in faculty/staff salaries. Read more about the budget proposal at http://go.unl.edu/t64.

The formal meeting begins at 12:45 p.m. in Varner Hall. Committee meetings begin at 9 a.m. The meetings are open to the public, and are also streamed live online through a link at http://nebraska.edu. Additional information on the meeting agenda is available at http://go.unl.edu/dt0.

Under the “employee plus one” proposal, to be outlined by President James B. Milliken and Vice President for Business and Finance David Lechner, the university would extend eligibility for coverage to an “adult designee” who shares an employee’s household and with whom the employee is financially interdependent, with family coverage to include the adult designee and their dependent children. Benefits would include health, dental and vision insurance, sick and bereavement leave and eligibility for the Dependent Scholarship Program.

“I support extending equitable benefits to University of Nebraska employees,” Milliken said. “This includes providing benefits for employees’ partners. Every other Big Ten university provides such benefits, as do a majority of the peers of the NU campuses. We should provide similar benefits not only to be competitive in attracting and keeping top faculty and staff, but because treating our employees equitably is the right thing to do.”

Faculty senates and student government organizations on all four campuses support the proposal. The change was also endorsed by the University-wide Fringe Benefits Committee, and all four NU chancellors.

The university has obtained an opinion from the Omaha law firm of Fraser Stryker PC LLO that the university's Plus One Plan is constitutional. Their analysis found that the proposed Plus One plan does not reference a civil union, domestic partnership or other similar same sex relationship; that it does not confer any of the traditional rights of marriage upon plan participants; and that the majority of courts in other states (with laws banning same sex marriage) have upheld public employer benefit plans providing benefits to same-sex couples. Similar proposals have been adopted in a number of other Defense of Marriage Act states, including Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Montana and Kentucky among others.

Milliken said adoption of a “plus one” proposal would bring the University of Nebraska in line with the prevailing practices of comparable higher education institutions. Nationally, more than 300 higher education institutions offer partner benefits, including public universities and systems in at least 30 states and most of the highly ranked research institutions.

The proposal is consistent with the university’s existing policy and strategic goals, including its nondiscrimination policy, which includes sexual orientation and marital status.

NU officials estimated the cost of extending health insurance benefits to qualifying adults of the same and opposite gender to be $750,000 to $1.5 million based on an estimated increase in enrollment of 1 to 2 percent, or about 100 to 200 new employee sign-ups. Total costs for the university’s health insurance plan today are more than $120 million. According to Lechner, the extended benefits would require a $1-$3 per month increase in employee health insurance premiums. If approved, the benefits would become available beginning Jan. 1, 2013.

For more information, including meeting agendas and minutes, go to http://nebraska.edu/board.html.

— Melissa Lee, NU Central Administration