Thursday, February 21, 2013

PBCHRC Asks Palm Beach Gardens to Offer Domestic Partner Benefits

Written by Dylan Bouscher
February 19, 2013 

Jessica Blackman wrote a Valentine's Day letter to the Palm Beach Gardens city council. She didn't ask them out - she asked the council to "offer identical family benefits to all of its employees."

According to the Human Rights Campaign, "When employees elect health insurance coverage from their employers for their families, the majority of their employers contribute to at least half of the insurance coverage's cost. For employees with different-sex spouses, federal and state tax law do not require employers to report their contribution to the employee's or the employee's different-sex spouse as taxable wages earned."

Employees with same-sex partners or spouses, on the other hand, must report their employer's contribution as taxable wages earned. Some cities, like Oakland Park and Hallandale Beach, reimburse employees with same-sex partners paying these taxes. Palm Beach Gardens does not.

In her letter, Blackman, the vice president of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, commended the city's leadership for unanimously supporting non-economic benefits like personal, acute illness, and bereavement leaves, as well as access to the Employee Assistance Program, amid an economic collapse in 2007.

"Fortunately, the economy has turned around," Blackman wrote. She adds that the city's fiscal management has led to a surplus, and that local property values are stable to support her claim.

And according to a report attached to Blackman's letter, 2.2 percent of the city's employees have domestic partners. The report also found there are more than 60 public employers in Florida already offering domestic partner benefits for their employees, and most employers offering domestic partner benefits report a less-than-one-percent increase in total benefit costs.

But the report does not confirm exactly how much extending coverage would cost Palm Beach Gardens, or exactly how much the city's surplus is this fiscal year. SFGN contacted Palm Beach Gardens Vice Mayor Bert Premuroso for comment, but as of publication time, he could not be reached.

"We're really just pushing Palm Beach Gardens to step up now that money doesn't necessarily seem to be an issue," Blackman told SFGN. "I haven't received a response from anybody, negative or positive, so we're being optimistic."