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Congress enables D.C. to install program for same-sex partners

WASHINGTON (BP)–The District of Columbia will be able to implement a program making health benefits available to the same-sex partners of its employees for the first time under legislation approved by Congress.

Both the Senate and House of Representatives passed conference reports on the D.C. appropriations bill for 2002. The funding legislation includes a measure permitting the district to finance a program providing health benefits to the domestic partners of D.C. employees.

The Senate voted 79-20 for the spending bill Dec. 7. The House approved the legislation with a 302-84 vote Dec. 6.

The final version, however, excluded a proposal that would have permitted D.C. funds to be used for needle-exchange programs. It also included an amendment to restrict the use of funds to abolish the Boy Scouts of America’s policy barring homosexual troop leaders.

Congress approved in 1992 a measure giving domestic partners of district employees the opportunity to purchase health insurance at their own expense. Until this year, however, it had barred the D.C. government from spending local or federal funds to implement the law.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, the new D.C. spending bill will:

— Establish a program that allows domestic partners to register with the district;

— Permit registered D.C. employees to purchase health insurance for their domestic partners;

— Enable district workers to have time off to care for an ill domestic partner or to make funeral arrangements for a domestic partner;

— Require medical facilities to permit domestic partners to have visitation rights.

The district joins 113 cities and counties nationwide that offer domestic partner benefits for their public employees.

HRC, which is based in Washington, is the country’s largest homosexual political organization.

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