State, M&I Bank workers receive partner benefits

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Two of the state’s largest employers began offering domestic partner benefits Jan. 1.

The State of Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds, which handles benefits for most employees of state government and the University of Wisconsin system, now provides a comprehensive package of benefits, including health insurance, retirement benefits and death benefits, to the partners of its workers.

The benefits were mandated in the two-year budget signed into law by Gov. Jim Doyle last July — the same budget that established the state’s domestic partner registry. The registry went into effect last August.

Employees applying for benefits must sign affidavits with their partners attesting that they have lived together for at least six months and have “the functional equivalent of a marriage.”

They must be able to provide such documentation as a joint lease, joint ownership of a home or car and a joint checking account.

At least 1,067 employees had submitted partnership forms prior to the end of December 2009, according to trust fund spokesperson Matt Stohr.

Of those, 710 had applied for health insurance benefits. About 265,000 people currently work for employers who are part of the fund’s system.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau projects the annual cost of the benefits at $4.7 million to $6.7 million, which amounts to an increase of 1.2 percent to 1.75 percent in costs to the state.

M&I Bank also launched a domestic partner benefit plan on Jan. 1. With about 9,500 employees, the bank is the largest in the state and among the top 20 in the nation.

M&I’s benefits include health, dental and vision insurance as well as family medical leave and funeral leave.

Vice president of corporate relations Dennis Salentine said M&I adopted domestic partner benefits in response to requests from employees and new hires.

“We’ve had nothing but positive (feedback) from every group, saying it’s good to work for a company that’s progressive and open to this,” Salentine said. “The bottom line is that it was the right thing to do.”

M&I, which is mostly self-insured, estimates that the new policy will increase the bank’s benefits costs by less than 1 percent.

Salentine said most same-sex couples choose to keep their individual health insurance policies, which are cheaper than family policies and carry less tax liability.

But if one partner is a stay-at-home parent or loses coverage, the domestic partner policies provide a needed option.

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