City OKs benefits for same-sex couples
By TaMaryn Waters
TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT STAFF WRITER
October 29, 2009
City Hall chambers erupted in cheers and applause Wednesday after the Tallahassee City Commission unanimously voted to change its benefits policy to include same-sex and domestic partnerships.
That means significant others, no matter their sexual orientation, will be eligible for the same benefits currently available to married couples. The policy change also means a non-married couple that has been together for a number of years is eligible for benefits.
Lisa Pontoriero was among those visibly pleased by the vote.
Pontoriero, a dispatcher for the Tallahassee Police Department, was at the meeting with her partner, Melissa Yown, a TPD sergeant. Their two sons, ages 3 and 4, playfully chased each other as their parents reveled in what they saw as an overdue victory.
She said it's about respecting people's choices.
"It has taken a long time for people to understand that and kind of wrap their brains around the fact that we are people, too," Pontoriero said.
Commissioners also agreed to include sexual orientation and identity under the city's Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policies and Procedures.
Travis Parsons, human-relations manager for the city, said Commissioner Andrew Gillum brought the issue up a few months ago during a meeting. Staffers were instructed to look into multiple sources regarding how others cities, including some in Florida, have incorporated a more inclusive approach to their benefits policy.
The city's change will allow city employees to include their partners for health, dental, vision and other benefits coverage.
"It's no different than adding new spouses or new children to their program." Parsons said.
When looking at employers across the country who provided domestic-partner benefits, Parsons said the percentage of employees receiving those benefits is between .5 percent to 2.5 percent. If that average were applied to the city of Tallahassee, Parsons said the benefits could apply to 12 to 57 people.
In an effort to avoid fraud, employees will need to provide some proof for the benefits, such as joint rental leases or a mortgage and joint-bank accounts.
Gillum shared his personal interest in this issue since he has a brother who is gay. And he said he often hears his brother's concerns about being treated as a "second-class citizen."
"I'm just very proud of the Commission today for considering this," Gillum said.
All of the commissioners showed support for this policy change.
"Quite frankly, I was surprised we had not done this a long time ago," Tallahassee Mayor John Marks said. "All individuals should be treated equally."
Commissioner Mark Mustian said, "Seems like basic fairness to me."
In other news, commissioners gave a green light for the city attorney to proceed with an eminent domain lawsuit against University Lofts, an apartment complex, to obtain property on Dewey and Virginia streets for a the Frenchtown storm-water improvement project.The commission also approved $4 million to initiate a project that would replace a 36-inch diameter pipeline that caused significant sewage damage during Tropical Storm Fay.