(WBIR-Knoxville) The City of Knoxville will expand its employee benefits coverage, including insurance, to include same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners, starting January 1.
Knoxville is the second city in Tennessee to do so; Collegedale became the first back in August.
It's something that's becoming more and more routine in the business world and I think it's the right thing for us to do as well for our employees," City of Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero said.
Employees can begin signing up for 2014 benefits during the city's annual enrollment period, which begins Oct. 23rd.
The city estimates about 2% (30 employees) will be eligible, costing the city about $60,000 per year.
Jay McRae works for the city's Community Development Department. He's been with his partner, Jim Danforth, for 37 years.
"You just hope that both of you stay healthy because you don't have a chance at the other person's healthcare plan," McRae said.
Recently, doctors diagnosed Danforth with cancer.
"If he wasn't retired and going on to Medicare, this would mean a lot more to me personally," McRae said.
He went on to say, "But it's so nice to know that it's going to be there for other people."
"Last year, we expanded our employee nondiscrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity. This change in our benefits ensures that we are treating everyone fairly," Mayor Rogero said. "It will help us attract and retain the best City of Knoxville employees, regardless of their domestic situation."
President of the East Tennessee Equality Council Todd Cramer agreed with Mayor Rogero but said more progress is needed.
"There's a lot of smaller organizations that can't go through the legal expense and research to make these decisions themselves and so the Fortune 500 companies, or the larger cities in this instance, do have those resources and are able to do it," Cramer said.
The city is basing the new domestic partnership benefits on the plans offered in other cities, like Durham, N.C., Covington, Ky., Louisville, Ky., and Indianapolis, as well as Maryville College.
Because the change is an administrative one, it does not require a vote by City Council.
City officials with Chattanooga and Nashville are considering the change, as well.
To be eligible for domestic partner benefits, an employee must fill out an affidavit about their committed relationship and show proof of financial interdependence. The city cautions that non-married couples, domestic partner benefits may be treated as taxable income by the Internal Revenue Service, so they encourage employees to research it and consider the tax implications.
The city provided a list of other local employers that offer domestic partner benefits including the following: Alcoa, AT&T, Bank of America, Best Buy, Boeing, Comcast, Costco, EW Scripps Co. (Knoxville News Sentinel), First Tennessee Bank, Home Depot, JC Penney, Kimberly-Clark, Kroger, Office Depot, Regions Bank, Scripps Interactive Networks, Sears, Sprint, SunTrust Bank, Target Corp., UPS, Verizon, Waste Management, and Wal-Mart (beginning in 2014).