Despite the recent removal of domestic partner benefits from the state budget, University of Wisconsin officials are hopeful the policy will be reintroduced and even approved.
Don Nelson, assistant director of state relations for UW, said the university will keep the policy a high priority and said it is "not dead."
"This issue will continue to be advocated for by the University of Wisconsin, and we will continue to work to ensure the Legislature considers and approves this benefit in the state budget," Nelson said.
Leaders of the state Legislature's finance committee removed the policy from Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's proposed budget after party negotiations April 20. It may be reintroduced to the budget in committee, but it will need a majority of votes.
The Joint Finance Committee is split 8-8 between Republican and Democrat state legislators. In the event of a tie, the policy would not pass.
"Benefits like this help us bring and retain certain faculty and staff," Nelson said. "We lose competitiveness because they are already offered by several other institutions."
The University of Wisconsin is the only Big Ten university that has never offered domestic partner benefits. Doyle's proposal would provide the health insurance benefits to all state workers, not only UW faculty and staff.
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said university officials have done a great job advocating for the policy and said he is hopeful it will be included in the budget.
After being discussed by the Joint Finance Committee, the policy may be taken up by the Assembly and Senate. If the bodies pass different versions of the budget — which is likely considering they are controlled by different parties — the budget may be resolved by a bipartisan conference committee.
Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, said he would support introducing the policy to the Republican-controlled Assembly, though it would likely be shot down.
However, Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, a member of the Joint Finance Committee, said domestic partner benefits should remain out of the budget, saying the policy would not receive the amount of attention or discussion it deserves.
"No matter which side of defense, it is a policy that has not been debated, and it doesn't belong in a state budget where it won't have adequate public input or debate," Suder said. "Republicans are not going to allow this to happen."
According to Suder, UW is supporting the inclusion of domestic partner benefits in the budget because it would fail if addressed publicly.
"They can't win this debate in the public arena, so they are trying everything they can by hiding it," Suder said. "The fact is that most taxpayers and voters don't agree with the policy, and not giving the public an adequate chance to talk about it is just bad policy."
The Joint Finance Committee began its review of Doyle's budget Thursday but has not scheduled votes on domestic partner benefits or the UW System.