Cretul bill limits partner benefits


Published: Thursday, January 5, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 4, 2006 at 11:42 p.m.
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Cretul

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OCALA - Clad in a Florida Gator necktie, Rep. Larry Cretul promoted legislation Wednesday that would bar the use of state dollars for the University of Florida's new domestic partnership health care plan.
At the first-ever news conference held in his new district office on State Road 200 - a stretch dotted with large churches - Cretul read from a bill he filed Tuesday. The bill prohibits the use of taxpayer money for state university and community college health care plans that benefit the partners of gay and lesbian employees. UF trustees passed such a plan last month, but said it will not require any state money.
"The bill is not intended to denounce or discriminate against anyone," Cretul, R-Ocala, said. "The bill simply clarifies what already exists in Florida law. . . . Colleges and universities are in a position if they wish to use alternate funding for employee benefits."
Since Florida doesn't recognize same-sex unions, Cretul argues it's apparently illegal to extend benefits to domestic partners. He further added that he has "personal" objections to domestic partnership benefits, which are offered by about 8,000 colleges, government agencies and private corporations.
State money is now used to fund health benefits for married couples at UF.
The bill could go before Legislative committees in the coming weeks, and be considered by the full Legislature when the session begins in March.
When UF passed its health-care plan in December, President Bernie Machen said it was a vital step toward recruiting quality faculty and moving into the ranks of the nation's top 10 public universities. Five of the top 10 public universities extend similar benefits.
Cretul, who says he's had strong support for the bill among his constituents, said he believes UF can achieve its goals without domestic partnership benefits.
"I can maybe understand their argument, but I don't agree with their argument," he said.
Miami-Dade, Hillsborough and Broward Community Colleges all offer domestic partnership benefits.
Jesse Alvarez, vice provost of human resources at Miami-Dade, did not confirm Wednesday whether state money was used to fund the program.
"Many institutions use this across the country," he said in a Tuesday phone interview. "This is not an unusual benefit. I didn't think we were doing anything controversial."
Though domestic partners can get coverage under the plan at Hillsborough Community College, the school doesn't make any contributions to partners with state dollars, according to Kay Sanborn, manager of benefits.Broward Community College officials did not return calls to discuss their plan Tuesday or Wednesday.
Cretul has been vocal in his opposition since UF officials started publicly discussing their intentions. From the beginning, in anticipation of such opposition, UF didn't plan to use state money to fund its program, said Kyle Cavanaugh, vice president of human resources. The UF plan, which could cost as much as $1 million a year, will be funded by private donations and grants, some of which are federally funded.
"It was designed to avoid any funding controversy," Cavanaugh said Wednesday.
Cretul's bill only bars the use of state money for plans at community colleges and universities. It does not stretch to other state-supported agencies or local governments.
"Local government, local control, they have to answer to their constituency," he said.
The city of Gainesville has offered domestic partnership benefits since January 2000.
Though Cretul maintains personal objections to domestic partnership benefits, he has accepted campaign contributions from several private companies that offer such plans, according to a gay and lesbian civil rights group called the Human Rights Campaign.
The group said Cretul took a total of $1,800 in contributions in 2004 from Bank of America, Chevron Texaco Corp. and Disney Worldwide Services Inc., all of which extend domestic partner benefits. He also accepted $500 from AvMed Inc., the Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) that has arranged UF's benefits plan.
When asked if he would stop taking money from companies that offer domestic partnership plans, Cretul said, "Good question. I'll have to go back and look at that."
Jack Stripling can be reached at 374-5064 or Jack.Stripling@gvillesun.com.

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