- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2001

The House Appropriations Committee yesterday approved an amendment to the D.C. budget that would allow the city government to provide health care benefits to domestic partners.

The 2002 budget bill would continue to prohibit the use of federal funds for the initiative, but would allow the District to use its own money.

The committee agreed to the amendment, introduced by Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican, and Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, as part of the city's $7.5 billion spending package it approved yesterday.

The D.C. Council in 1992 approved the Health Care Benefits Expansion Act, which expanded health benefits to unmarried couples and single adult relatives who live together and work for the city. D.C. government workers were to be required to pay the total cost for insuring the domestic partner. Through the years, Congress has prevented its implementation.

Yesterday, Mr. Moran listed several major cities that provide such benefits, such as Los Angeles, Denver and Seattle. He said the partnership law would benefit not just homosexual couples. Two widows living together and mothers and grandmothers living together also would be eligible, he said.

"I don't know why we wouldn't let D.C. use its own local funds," Mr. Moran said.

Rep. Ernest Istook, Oklahoma Republican, countered that it is the responsibility of Congress to oversee the city, the only one without state oversight. "It is our call," he said, in voicing his opposition to the amendment.

Rep. Joe Knollenberg, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District, raised concerns about the costs, noting that health insurance premiums are on the rise.

Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, said he doesn't believe in homosexual marriages, but urged members to approve of any measure that extends health insurance coverage. "I don't give a rat's you-know-what about this other issue," he said.

Another budget amendment would provide a federal payment of $16 million to the District for security planning. Of those funds, $4.6 million would be made available for developing an emergency security plan and $8 million for implementing it.

Half of the federal payments for tuition support, fire and emergency medical services, the chief medical examiner and the city administrator are to be withheld until the security plan is submitted to the appropriate federal agencies.

The District has been criticized for its slow response after last week's attack on the Pentagon. Many residents were not sure if schools were closing, or if businesses or roads within the city were being shut down.

"We have to be prepared in our capital," said Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican.

Another $3.4 million of that $16 million would reimburse the city for expenses already incurred in preparation for the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings, which were canceled in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Northern Virginia and New York.

The House is expected to vote next week on the D.C. budget, which includes about $400 million in federal funds for various projects, such as $23 million for family-court reform.

The D.C. Family Court Act of 2001 passed unanimously in the House yesterday. The bill would create a family-court division in D.C. Superior Court.

The budget would continue to prohibit the use of federal and D.C. funds for a needle-exchange program and would continue restrictions on local abortion funding. The budget also would prohibit allocating any money for the legalization of marijuana.

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