October 19, 2005
Beach County approves, but won't fund, partner benefits
A story published today
in the Boca Raton News reports that
partners of Palm Beach County employees are now eligible to receive all
benefits currently given to spouses of married employees.
That’s as far as county commissioners are currently willing to go.
Commissioners on Tuesday instead agreed to offer, but stopped short of
agreeing to pay for those benefits. In fact, domestic partners of county
employees will pay more for benefits than what married co-workers now pay.
Cost estimates have ranged from a low of $450,000 to a high of $5 million
annually for the county to supplement domestic partner benefits in the
same amounts as married spouse benefits.
Led by Commissioner Warren Newell, the board voted 4-3 for a plan that
will instead cost $440.97 a month for coverage for an unmarried domestic
partner, as opposed to the $91 a month it currently costs to cover the
spouse of a married employee.
Commissioner Karen Marcus seconded Newell’s motion saying the county
should wait to see how many persons sign up for the new benefits, or
perhaps indicate an interest once the county agrees to fund the plan.
“We should crawl before we walk,” she said.
“A first step,” is Rand Hoch’s view of the Commission vote. The next step
is “reconsideration” of that vote, the Palm Beach County Human Rights
Council (PBCHRC) founder said.
The 4-3 vote, and the commission’s decision not to fund the new benefits,
was a surprise to Hoch, the state’s first openly gay judge. He had come to
the meeting with a prepared press release which said that not only had
commissioners unanimously approved offering benefits to domestic partners,
but had also agreed to pay for those benefits.
Hoch said the PBCHRC would now seek to sway Commissioner Addie Greene to
join Commissioners Jeff Koon, Burt Aaronson and Mary McCarty in a
favorable “reconsideration” of the funding question.
For Aaronson, his support for providing and also paying for domestic
partner benefits is more practical than political.
“It’s getting extremely difficult to get good people to stay with the
county when the private sector is offering these benefits,” Aaronson told
Offering and funding such benefits “makes sense,” he said. “From a
business standpoint it makes sense, and from a human standpoint, it makes
Hoch himself pointed out that the Palm Beach County School District took
the first step to offer health insurance to the domestic partners of its
20,000 employees by extending health insurance benefits to 750 non-union
employees earlier this month. The District’s five unions are expected to
also seek domestic partnership benefits during the next round of contract
negotiations, he said.
“By offering employees benefits covering their domestic partners and their
children, both the County and the School District will be as recognized
progressive employers that values diversity,” said PBCHRC President Jamie
T. Foreman. “Our county’s two largest public employers will be able to
attract and retain top-notch employees,” he added. “This action clearly
benefits both the adults and the children in employees’ families.
According to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, at least 8,281 public
and private employers across the country – including almost 50 percent of
the Fortune 500 companies – offer health care benefits to employee’s
domestic partners or spouses, according to Hoch.
Public employers in Palm Beach County offer domestic partnership benefits
include: the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, the Office of the
Property Appraiser, the Office of the Clerk and Comptroller, the Office of
the Supervisor of Elections, the Port of Palm Beach, the cities of Lake
Worth and West Palm Beach.
Additional public employers in Florida offering domestic partnership
benefits for their employees include Broward County, Monroe County, the
Broward County School District, the Miami-Dade County School District,
Florida International University, Broward County Community College, and
the cities of Gainesville, Hialeah, Key West, Miramar, Tampa, Wilton
Manors, and Miami Beach.
Hoch did not say when he would seek to have a reconsideration vote.
In the meantime, a decision last month to postpone seeking a domestic
partner registry ordinance was delayed again at Tuesday’s meeting.
At a September meeting, Commissioners were reluctant to impose a registry
requirement on the entire county. Commissioner Mary McCarty said that the
registry proposal should be only for “the unincorporated territories, and
not the entire county without talking with them first.”
“And if there’s opposition (from the county’s 37 municipalities) I’m going
to be very sensitive to that,” McCarty said. Some 65 percent of county
residents live in municipalities.
Staff was directed to process the proposed registry ordinance through the
League of Cities; Tuesday’s meeting did not complete that process.
Registry supporters point out that Florida doesn’t recognize or permit gay
marriage. The state also doesn’t recognize a “family” relationship between
two persons who just decide to live together but not get married. A
registry of domestic partners lays the foundation for such domestic
partners to be recognized as family members under the law.
The registry proposal would provide a vehicle to recognize gay and
straight registered partners as having the right to visit each other in
hospitals and jail, make educational decisions involving a partner’s
children, become involved in health-care decisions, and decide on funeral
or burial plans —- all currently permitted to only “family members.”