Feb. 13, 2006 – A controversial amendment to a bill proposing universal health care coverage to private sector employers caused debate between some senators at a Health, Hospitals and Human Services Committee meeting Monday on St. Thomas.
The amendment, which is attached to the Governor's Health Reform Initiative bill, states that dependents of an employee covered under the proposed plan include a spouse, children, and a "recognized domestic partner."
Jacqueline Hoop-Sinicrope, project manager for the plan, said the bill's definition of a "recognized domestic partner" does not rule out coverage for individuals in same-sex relationships.
"If two people are in a relationship, and not married, what we do require, among other things, is they have lived together for at least six months, that they share basic living expenses, and have the same address," she said. "If that criteria is met, then the individual who will be receiving coverage can designate his or her partner as a domestic partner eligible for benefits under the program."
Hoop-Sinicrope also said the two parties have to sign an affidavit that recognizes the relationship as a domestic partnership. "The same goes for individuals who are in what we would call a common-law marriage," she added. "While they many not be legally married, we will recognize that there is a relationship if an affidavit is signed."
Sen. Craig W. Barshinger said the amendment would cause "quite a stir" among members of the V.I. community, and Sen. Usie R. Richards proved Barshinger's point by voicing opposition to the provision during the meeting. Richards said he does not support giving "carte blanche authority" to an insurer who would issue an affidavit for a relationship which involves two people of the same sex.
"As a legislator, I don't want to be responsible for creating any kind of loophole, or drafting a bill which would let these kinds of things slip in through the back door," Richards said.
Richards added that discussion on the proposed amendment took place during an informal meeting held on St. Croix over the weekend. "I was not informed about this meeting, nor were some of the other members in this committee," Richards told Barshinger. "Had I been there, I would not have supported this."
Richards received some support from Pastor Gladstone Hazel of Christian Fellowship Church on St. Thomas, who gave his position on the bill during Monday's meeting.
"We have to protect the foundation of the family, which means a union between a man and a woman," Hazel said. "However, we have to show these individuals some compassion. People are people, and we can't just say that if a person is sick we're going to let them die."
Hazel said he also does not support the high percentage of single-parent households, where "unwed mothers serve as primary caregivers to children without the support of a father figure."
"However, those individuals also deserve compassion," Hazel continued. "But I do not believe that we should make a law condoning these types of things."
Hazel said, however, that he did support the rest of the bill in its entirety.
While Hoop-Sinicrope said that she and the other proponents of the bill would continue to refine the definition of "domestic partners," she did not say whether same-sex partnerships would continue to be recognized under the proposed health care plan.
Present at Monday's meeting were Sens. Barshinger, Richards, Liston Davis, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Neville James, Norman Jn Baptiste, Louis P. Hill and Celestino A. White Sr.
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