Springfield benefits vote under scrutiny

Photo: Deepak

The Civil Rights Agenda, an Illinois LGBT civil rights advocacy organization, testified before the Springfield City Council Tuesday evening to emphasize the legal rights gained by the Illinois Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act, which asserts that partners in a civil union receive the same protections and benefits as spouses in a marriage.

Last month, the City Council was informed that the Joint Labor and Management Healthcare committee unanimously voted against extending insurance benefits to couples in a civil union in a closed September meeting. Their decision was based on estimates provided by an actuarial firm employed by Springfield Mayor J. Michael Houston’s administration. The firm estimated that extending the benefits to those in a civil union would cause a cost increase of over $700,000.

This figure was based on assumptions that 65 couples would enroll in the self-insured plan, when experts’ testimonies revealed that only an estimated 1 to 3 couples would seek those benefits.

Houston had previously told the committee that municipalities were not required to follow the civil union law based on the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, which is a federal law that sets minimum standards for pension plans. Houston recently reversed his opinion and held a press conference saying the city of Springfield must follow state law.

The monetary increase should have no effect on the committee’s vote, according to policy director of TCRA Lowell Jaffe.

“The City Council is required to follow the statute,” Jaffe said. “How the council chooses to pay for the coverage of couples who are united in civil union in Springfield is a separate issue.”

Equality Illinois, another LGBT civil rights advocacy organization, started a petition urging Mayor Houston and the City Council to reconsider and reverse the committee’s decision. TCRA said they will continue to monitor the situation in Springfield and will take all appropriate actions to ensure civil union couples have access to the benefits provided to them by law.

“I am confident that the committee will come to the right decision,” said TCRA Executive Director Anthony Martinez Tuesday. “Thankfully, as was pointed out by an alderperson this evening, most public and private sector employers are doing the right thing by ensuring compliance with the Illinois Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act. We expect Springfield to do the same.”