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Wolff moves swiftly on policy changes to benefit county's LGBT employees
QSanAntonio, May 9, 2014

When Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff spoke in January at the Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio's candidate endorsement forum, he talked about policy changes he wanted to make which would be beneficial to the county's LGBT employees. Four months later, his efforts appear to have found widespread acceptance.

In his first-ever appearance at the Stonewall forum, Wolff offered a list that included: a one-plus benefits plan that would allow employees to add a same-sex partner or spouse to insurance plans; sensitivity training for county employees; and changing the county's EEO policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Wolff was not endorsed by Stonewall, even though he went on to win the March 4 Democratic Primary. His opponent, County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, got the nod.

Wolff moved immediately to make good on the changes he announced at the Stonewall forum. The first of his proposals, the plus-one insurance program, was approved in a unanimous vote by the Commissioner's Court in early February.

The plus-one plan permits county employees in same-sex relationships to insure their partners or spouses without having to qualify their relationship as a legal marriage or domestic partnership thus eliminating any conflict with state law which forbids same-sex unions.

Judge Nelson Wolff at Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio's candidate endorsement forum last January. (Photos: QSanAntonio)

"We put it on the agenda on a Friday and we voted on Tuesday," Wolff told QSan Antonio. "We got some complaints on the day of the vote and and at a later meeting. But it was hard for opponents to raise a case because I said, 'We are not going into the bedroom.' If they meet the criteria they'll get the insurance."

Laura Jesse, a spokesperson for the county, told QSanAntonio that 36 couples have signed up for the plus-one insurance. "We had a special enrollment period because the benefit was extended after the enrollment period had ended," she says.

Wolff says he was taken aback by the number of enrollments. "Quite frankly it surprised me. To me it says that we did a good job of getting the message out to employees and that within county government there is a diversity of employees."

The plus-one benefits program will eventually be offered to employees at all county departments including the Sheriff's Department, the County Clerk’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, District Clerk and Tax Office.

George B. Hernandez, Jr., Bexar County Hospital District CEO, confirmed to Judge Wolff that the agency's 5,000 employees will be offered plus-one insurance in October.

County officials cannot yet say how much the plus-one program will cost taxpayers. "Our Aetna representative said it would be very small," says Jesse. "It would depend on which plans the employees and their partners chose and whether the employees are under the collective bargaining agreement (sheriff’s deputies) or civilian. The cost split between employee and the county varies by plan."

Another of Wolff's proposals, diversity training for county employees, is now underway. In February, the county employed Winslow Staut of Winslow Consulting to provide diversity training for managers and supervisors.

"We had 36 people attend," says Jesse. "Because of the great response and requests to train all employees, we asked Winslow to assist us with expanding the training with a focus on our large departments. We will have six more training sessions in this fiscal year and our HR department is planning for additional manager/supervisor training in developing the training budget for FY 2014-15."

Each training session accommodates 80 employees. The next two sessions are scheduled on May 23 and there will be two more sessions in July and September.

Changing the county's EEO policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity will take a little more time to complete. The process for making the change originates in the county's Human Resources Department, which will draft the new language and then present it to Commissioner's Court for a vote.

In an email, Janet Guadarrama, the county's Human Resources Director, explained, "We are in the process of auditing all the potential hard and soft policies so that they include the language to reflect our diversity. We have to audit everything because of how it impacts many other areas of policy and procedure. Example: Changes to the Family Medical and Leave Act, sick leave, bereavement leave, dependent coverage, etc. So not just the EEO policy must be changed. Our direction is clear and we are moving to make those changes."

Thomas Guevara, Chief of Staff for the County Manager's Office, told QSanAntonio he thought the new EEO language might be ready for a vote in September.