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Same-sex insurance tax penalty: Dave Ensign on his pitch to Boulder Human Rights Commission

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Update: Out Boulder board member Dave Ensign wants his hometown to become only the second community in the nation to compensate city employees for tax penalties they suffer when buying health insurance for same-sex partners -- and he feels that his proposal before Boulder's Human Rights Commission was well-received. "Every indication I got from them is that they were very interested," he says.

Interest is no guarantee of support, of course. But Ensign says "they agreed to review the proposal, and if they vote in favor of it at their next meeting, they plan on taking it to the city council."

The commission doesn't have a get-together on the books until September, so the initiative can't reach council until after that point. In the meantime, Ensign notes, commissioners will "vet the proposal with everything they have access to in regard to city resources and maybe fill in some of the gaps."

He concedes that "there are definitely challenges when you'd be one of the first communities to do something like this" -- and indeed, Cambridge, Massachusetts is the only place in the U.S. that currently offsets tax penalties (which can run into the thousands of dollars) for city employees buying health insurance for a same-sex partner. "So I don't know how high the chances are, but I'm hopeful. I think it's exciting -- and I think Boulder should be excited about doing something like this."

Look below to see our earlier coverage about the idea, including Ensign's pitch for why he believes the time for it is right.

Original item, 11:39 a.m. July 18: At 6 p.m. tonight, Out Boulder board member Dave Ensign will make a presentation before Boulder's Human Rights Commission arguing in favor of Boulder offering a stipend to cover the additional taxes a city employees must pay when buying health insurance for a same-sex partner. Does he fear this will be a difficult sell in the current economic climate?

"For couples who are spending thousands of dollars more than those who are able to get married and not have those tax implications, they're also experiencing tough financial times," Ensign says. "It's been a burden on them.

"To me, it's never a bad time to implement policies that treat people equally," he adds. "And it's not as if there's extra money given to people. It's just equalizing a penalty they've been paying."

As noted by the Boulder Daily Camera, only one U.S. city -- Cambridge, Massachusetts -- has enacted a similar policy to date. But the Human Rights Commission, which will hear Ensign's pitch at 6 p.m. tonight at the Boulder Municipal Building, 1777 Broadway, doesn't have the power to put it in place. Ensign is floating it in that forum in the hope of building momentum prior to presenting it to the Boulder City Council for formal consideration.

Ensign stresses that neither he nor his husband, Mike, who were married in Massachusetts, would benefit from the notion's passage. He points out that "I recently took an early retirement package from Cisco," one of the handful of major firms that offers employees in same-sex partnerships the sort of health-insurance-cost offset he'd like to see Boulder embrace, "and because I went on his insurance policy, I know to the penny how much more we would pay" than a different-gender married couple in Colorado.

The total: $1,800 in federal income taxes.

Boulder officials might balk at the size of this potential payment -- but Ensign encourages them to take the long view.

"There are benefits to doing this, which is why corporations like Cisco are doing it," he maintains. "Way back in the Eighties, when high-tech companies started to implement nondiscrimination policies and domestic-partnership benefits, those companies did so because they saw a business advantage. It helped them retain the best and the brightest, and it's good for employee morale to know people are being treated fairly and they're able to be comfortable in their family situation."

He believes such positives would translate in Boulder as well. "We're at the forefront of being an attractive place to live and work," he says. "and I think, in general, it creates a feeling of goodwill among people to know we're working hard to provide equitable health benefits to everyone."

Of course, Ensign would like to see same-sex marriage legalized in Colorado, too, "but we have a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2006 that prohibits it. As a result, we can't get those benefits in any other way than to work on them piece by piece -- and I think it would be wrong to stop progress on these issues in order to wait for full same-sex marriage to be provided. It could take a long time to overturn a constitutional amendment and make it legal to proceed down that path. So we should seek these benefits in the current climate."

How receptive does he think the Human Rights Commission will be to his idea? "I guess I'll find out tonight," he says. "But I believe the people on the commission are on it because they want to take on things like this. Their purpose is to make sure all residents of Boulder are treated equally."

More from our News archive: "Same-sex couples and same-sex parents: Maps, charts show where in Colorado most, least live."

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