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Legislative Memo

518.465.7517

BILL:

S.7685 (Rules) / A.11307 (Nolan)

Support

SUBJECT:

Death Benefits for Domestic Partners

 

DATE:

June 19, 2002

 

The Business Council of New York State, Inc., a broad-based, statewide membership organization of over 4,000 companies, chambers of commerce and trade associations has reviewed the aforementioned legislation and opposes its enactment.

The Business Council of New York State, Inc., realizes that the loved ones left behind after the attack on the World Trade Center have suffered immeasurable sorrow and loss. This legislation provides that death benefits would be made available to eligible domestic partners of persons who died as a result of the attacks of September 11, 2001. However, we believe that this legislation is technically flawed.

Current workers compensation law provides that under certain circumstances, children and spouses are eligible for the statutorily prescribed death benefit. Only when there is no spouse or children, does the workers' compensation law allows other eligible family members such as parents, grandparents, brothers and sister, who can show dependency on the victim, to be eligible for benefits.

This legislation would allow domestic partners to become the equivalent of a spouse and therefore, eligible for death benefits. This legislation fails to provide a strict definition of the term domestic partner. This bill defines the term domestic partner "as a person at least eighteen years of age who is dependent upon the employee for support as shown by either unilateral dependence or mutual interdependence, as evidenced by a nexus of factor including, but not limited to, common ownership of real or personal property, common householding, children in common, signs of intent to marry, shared budgeting, and the length of the personal relationship with the employee or, if the employee is deceased, was so dependent upon the employee immediately prior to the employee's death; or has registered as the domestic partner of the employee with any registry of domestic partnerships...". Then in a later section states "the definition of the term domestic partner made by subdivision one of this section shall not be construed to be an exclusive definition." Under this proposal a roommate could be eligible for benefits just because they shared common bills. This is not the intent of the death benefits statute in workers' compensation law.

Giving domestic partners the same status as a spouse, has the potential to reduce the death benefits to eligible children and would make those dependent relatives ineligible for benefits. This legislation is retroactive and therefore, may delay benefits until the correct beneficiary can be determined.

The bill further provides that the courts have the authority to determine that a person is a domestic partner on the basis of any criteria even if it is not specified in the legislation.

This provides enormous loopholes for potential fraud abuses.

We urge that this bill be held.