"We're not asking for anything radical"
By Anne Geggis, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
December 6, 2012|
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Thursday formally asked again that the Boca Raton City Council recognize the domestic partners of city employees as family members — and extend them the benefits legal spouses receive.
Boca Raton is the biggest Palm Beach County city that hasn't yet done it, said Rand Hoch, president of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.
"We're asking the city of Boca Raton to do what the city of West Palm Beach did in February 1992 – 20 years ago," Hoch said. "We're not asking for anything radical. We're asking for them to treat their employees and their employees' families equally."
City Council members asked City Manager Leif Ahnell last month to prepare some information on what it would mean for the city to adopt a policy that recognizes domestic partners. They also wanted to know what it would mean for the city to fully embrace the county's equal employment opportunity policy — which says the county will not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender expression.
Mayor Susan Whelchel said she's waiting to see that report before she'll agree with the Human Rights Council's suggestion. But the item is not on next week's City Council agenda, said Mike Woika, assistant city manager.
"We asked the city manager to look around at what other cities are doing and, it hasn't come to us as of this moment," Whelchel said. "I don't know what the costs are, what the consequences of these changes to the city are."
Hoch said that domestic partnership benefits are currently offered by the municipalities of Delray Beach, Jupiter, Lake Worth, Palm Beach Gardens, Wellington and West Palm Beach, and also by Palm Beach County, the Palm Beach County School District, the Port of Palm Beach, the Palm Beach County Health Care District, Palm Beach State College, the Children's Services Council, Palm Tran, Seacoast Utility Authority, the Solid Waste Authority and all five of Palm Beach County's elected officials.
Boca has been on the Human Rights Council president's radar since a contract snag brought to light a City Council ordinance passed in January 2011. In that ordinance, Boca Raton opted out of including sexual orientation and gender expression as the county's equal employment policy does. The snag in the contract was resolved 30 days later when language was added to the contract providing that Boca Raton would not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, without requiring the city to provide benefits to gay domestic partners.
Hoch said many of the changes he's suggested to Boca Raton's policy won't cost much. In addition to health benefits, the proposed changes to Boca's policies would also mean, for example, that people can get bereavement leave if their domestic partner's mother dies or if a domestic partner falls ill.
In Florida, domestic partners can't legally become spouses.
"We're just asking for people to be treated the same way," Hoch said. "They are talking maybe three to five employees, at most. You are either going to treat people fairly or you are going to discriminate against them."