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State looking to Hood for guidance on same-sex benefits signups

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood

By TED CARTER

State officials are awaiting word from Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood on when to extend worker benefits to the same-sex spouses of state and school employees.

The Department of Finance and Administration, the state agency that administers worker benefits to state and public school workers, says it needs guidance from Hood on whether to make the benefit signups retroactive or immediate or force spouses in same-sex marriages to wait until the fourth quarter open enrollment.

The key, said DFA spokesman Chuck McIntosh, is whether the same-sex marriages can be termed “life-changing” events. “We need a ruling on what constitutes a life change,” he said Tuesday.

Hood’s office said late Tuesday it had not yet received a request from the DFA for an opinion, though it said DFA officials had been in touch with the AG’s staff attorneys.

McIntosh said the eligibility could be deemed to start on June 26, the day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states must allow same-sex marriages.

Whether state and school workers will get full clarity from Attorney General Hood is unclear. He directed court clerks across Mississippi immediately the Supreme Court ruling not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Several days later he clarified his directive by stating he never intended for clerks to postpone issuing the licenses.

The DFA said early last week it could not allow the spousal benefits sign-ups until it finished analyzing the ruling to determine how it needs to be implemented “as it relates to the state and school employees’ health insurance plan.”

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