Republicans who control the Michigan Legislature approved a bill Thursday aimed at blocking the offering of taxpayer-paid health insurance to domestic partners living with some public employees, but there's some dispute over whether the measure might cover universities.
The main bill in the package passed by 63-45 vote in the House. It's headed to Gov. Rick Snyder for consideration because it passed the Senate earlier in the week.
The legislation would prohibit some public employers from extending health benefits to unmarried partners of employees, whether they are of the same sex or opposite sex. It would apply to public schools, local governments and some state employees.
Senate Republicans say it wouldn't apply to public universities, which have constitutional authority to make many of their policies in Michigan. But some House Republicans counter that the new measure relies on definitions of public employees that previously have included university employees in certain situations.
Snyder's intent would be to sign the bill, spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said, but that is "pending a final review ... that ensures constitutionality and university autonomy."
The bill included specific references to higher education when it was introduced in the House, but direct references were not included in the final two-page bill legislation headed to Snyder's desk. The bill also reads that it would apply "to the greatest extent consistent with constitutionally allocated powers."
Supporters of the bill say it's designed to save governments money on health benefits and also to reflect the will of Michigan voters who decided in 2004 to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
Democrats say the bill is unconstitutional and misguided, making it harder for public employers to attract and keep some top-notch employees.
Separately, lawmakers continued votes to change the state retiree benefits system.
State employees covered by state pension plans would have to decide whether to remain in the pension plan or convert to a 401(k) system. Workers who choose to remain in the pension plan would have to contribute 4 percent of their compensation to remain in it.
The bill would eliminate the 3 percent employee contribution that state workers have been making since last year to help cover retiree health care costs. Those contributions, which have been challenged in court cases, would be refunded to workers.
One bill in the retiree benefits package is headed to Snyder, while another is awaiting a vote in the Senate.