COLLEGEDALE, Tenn. (AP) — An East Tennessee city of fewer than 7,000 residents is poised to become the first municipality in the state to grant health care benefits to domestic partners.
According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/12shZN7 ), Collegedale City Commission members last week passed on first reading a plan to extend the same benefits married city workers receive to heterosexual and same-sex partners of city employees.
A consultant with the University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service said that, if the commissioners approve the proposal again, Collegedale would become the first among Tennessee’s 346 cities to cover domestic partnerships.
Consultant Bonnie Jones said she is surprised one of the larger cities might not be the first.
“Collegedale is kind of on the cutting edge,” Jones said.
The impetus for Collegedale’s consideration was a request by Kat Cooper, a detective on the city police force, to include her partner under health coverage. What she thought might require a couple of trips to city human resources became a months-long quest. But last week, Cooper and her wife, Krista, watched as commissioner members voted 4-1 in favor of including domestic partners in the city benefits plan.
Mayor John Turner was the only member to vote against revising the benefits policy. He wasn’t available Wednesday for comment. Turner had turned down Cooper’s initial request to include her partner.
“Sometimes I don’t think the general public is aware of just how much this issue — which seems so simple — affects their neighbors, their friends, their loved ones and co-workers,” Cooper said Wednesday. “This is huge for us.”
Cooper and Krista got married in Maryland in May. They celebrated with a large group of family and friends locally and commissioners noticed and soon began discussing the benefits inclusion.
It would take a second vote to amend the policy and include domestic partners. That’s expected in August.
Commission member Katie Lamb said times are changing and the policy needs revisiting.
“In 40 years the city has changed a lot,” Lamb said. “I think people used to assume we were just a little Seventh-day Adventist community. It’s no longer that. …Things have changed in America, and I think that it is time for us to make sure we’re treating our employees equally.”
Commission member Larry Hanson acknowledges he’s struggling with his decision, but is leaning toward making a change.
“It’s a difficult situation,” he said. “No matter which way you go, there are going to be people who are unhappy.”
Hanson said he’ll decide after seeing a final draft of the proposal.
“It’s not black and white to me at all,” he said.