LINCOLN — Four months after it was unveiled by University of Nebraska President J.B. Milliken, a proposal to offer domestic partner insurance coverage to NU employees has yet to return to the Board of Regents agenda.
Several regents said this week that it has taken longer than expected to resolve their questions and concerns about the program's structure and cost.
Regent Howard Hawks of Omaha, for example, said he wants a more precise estimate of the cost — saying he's been given a range of $750,000 to $1.5 million.
He also wants more information about NU officials' plan to cover the cost — whether through restructuring of benefits and premiums, tuition increases or cuts elsewhere in the NU budget.
"The students have been very supportive of this," he said. "It's good they're supportive, but are we going to ask them to pick up the cost through a tuition increase?"
When Milliken rolled out the idea in October, he said he would bring it back for approval as early as December.
The proposal, which was endorsed by the chancellors, faculty senates and student governments at NU's four campuses, is absent from the agenda for Friday's regents meeting.
The proposal has not been scuttled, the regents said.
Hawks, along with Regents Jim McClurg and Tim Clare, both of Lincoln, said they expect to vote on the concept in the coming months.
Hawks said he expects the board to make a decision before next year's budget is approved in June.
Milliken himself offers few clues about when he might bring the proposal back to the board.
"When I presented the 'employee plus one' initiative to the Board of Regents last fall, I said it would be on a later agenda for action," he said. "I have discussed this with the chair of the board, and that is still our intention."
Clare said he can't make a decision until he can review all the details of the proposal.
"No. 1, we haven't seen anything," he said. "No one has any idea what the proposal will look like — and the minute you start guessing, that's when you get into trouble."
On Oct. 29, David Lechner, NU's vice president of business and finance, estimated that 200 or fewer workers would use the coverage and that it would cost less than $1.5 million a year. Lechner's estimates were based on the experience of other universities and government entities that offer the benefit.
Milliken has noted that all of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's peers in the Big Ten, including the University of Iowa, offer domestic partner benefits.
As the NU proposal has been described, the health insurance coverage would be offered to both same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners of NU employees. To be eligible, the domestic partner most likely would have to meet several criteria, such as holding a joint mortgage or a joint banking account or being designated as a life insurance beneficiary for an NU employee.
NU officials have requested a legal opinion from an unnamed law firm on whether the NU proposal would violate Nebraska's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, which also states that civil unions and domestic partnerships are not valid or recognized in Nebraska. That opinion has not yet been delivered.
McClurg, the current board chairman, said he views the issue as a personnel benefits issue, and like all such issues, a matter of NU remaining competitive with its peers in recruiting faculty and staff.
"It's an issue that a lot of people have an interest in, and I want it to be done right," he said.
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