Tuesday, June 18, 2013

'Tax equity' sought for Palm Beach County employees with unmarried partners

'Tax equity' sought for county employees with unmarried partners

By Andy Reid
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
June 17, 2013

Gay, lesbian and other unmarried Palm Beach County employees should not have to pay more than their married co-workers to receive taxpayer-backed health benefits for their domestic partners, according to County Commissioner Mary Lou Berger.

Mary Lou Berger
Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary Lou Berger wants the commission to consider paying to cover increased healthcare tax costs charged to unmarried employees with registered domestic partners. (Matt Dean / FPG / December 18, 2011)

Berger at the commission's July 2 meeting plans to ask her fellow commissioners to consider paying to cover the increased tax costs of medical benefits for employees with domestic partners.

The county in 2005 agreed to extend benefits to the unmarried domestic partners of county employees. But because the federal government doesn't equate an unmarried partner to a spouse, those employees end up paying taxes on those benefits.

Berger wants to explore enacting the "tax equity" proposal, backed the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, which calls for local governments to cover those tax costs for their unmarried employees with registered domestic partners.

It's not fair for employees with domestic partners to have to pay more than their married co-workers, Berger said.

"I believe in equality for everyone," Berger said. "We are all equal."

The cost implications of the new policy are one of the issues that must still be determined, Berger said.
Last year the county only had 55 employees with registered domestic partners.

To qualify a domestic partner for benefits, an employee must provide proof that can include a shared deed or lease; driver's licenses showing a common address; wills listing each other as beneficiaries; and joint credit card accounts.

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council for years has been pushing local governments to expand employee benefits for domestic partners.

"This is not a gay issue. This is a pay issue," Palm Beach County Human Rights Council President Rand Hoch said in a statement issued Monday.    

PBCHRC - Pride Update - June 2013

June 2013

Across the county and around the globe, LGBT Pride is being celebrated this month.

Here in Palm Beach County we have many reasons to take pride in our LGBT community.

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council marks its  25th anniversary in 2013. Since 1988, local activists – all volunteers -- have been interviewing candidates for public office, making endorsements, educating public officials and taking action with the sole purpose of changing laws and policies to provide equal treatment and equal benefits for the local LGBT community.

To see our remarkable successes, check out the "Palm Beach County (Florida) LGBT History Timeline (Updated 6/10/13)"on the blog.

PBCHRC’s 25th Anniversary Celebration began on May 1 with a fabulous event sponsored by the Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach, featuring openly gay poet Richard Blanco. Kudos go out to Victor Figueredo and everyone at the Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach, who organized this evening.

The 25th Anniversary celebrations continue on Friday evening, August 2, with a special performance of William Randall Beard’s musical Beyond the Rainbow, sponsored by The Arts Garage in Delray Beach. The show about Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall features two dozen of Garland’s greatest hits, including “Get Happy,” “That’s Entertainment,” “The Trolley Song” and of course, “Over the Rainbow.” Ticket information will be sent out shortly, but in the interim, please save the date for an incredible evening of fun and superb entertainment.

Something very special is being planned for our main 25th Anniversary event later this Fall. Co-Chairs Victor Figueredo and Ross W. W. Meltzer – and an amazing committee of volunteers – will fill us in on the details very shortly. Truly, it will be a night to remember.

Within days, the U.S. Supreme Court will be issuing two rulings on cases involving recognition of lesbian and gay relationships. As a retired judge, I can assure you that it is always a mistake to predict how a court will rule. That being said, I am optimistic the rulings will help at least some laws across the country catch up with public opinion which increasingly supports legal recognition of our relationships.

Since the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council does not take a “wait and see” position when it comes to moving forward in securing equal rights and benefits for our community, we have been extremely busy this year, working on non-discrimination policies and domestic partnership benefits at the local level, especially in the cities of West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Boca Raton, Boynton Beach and Palm Beach Gardens, as well in the town of Palm Beach. Last December, PBCHRC renewed its efforts in the town of Palm Beach concerning the full range of domestic partnership benefits for town employees. In March, the town manager informed PBCHRC that an insurance consultant had been hired to assist the town on insurance matters, including offering health insurance to the domestic partners of town employees. PBCHRC is very optimistic that by year’s end the town of Palm Beach will join the ever-growing list of local public employers offering equal benefits to their LGBT employees.

In late April, West Palm Beach became the first city in Florida - and only the second city in the nation – to implement a tax equity policy to reimburse municipal employees insuring their domestic partners for the full amount of the additional federal income taxes which are assessed on employees whose domestic partners receive health insurance through their employers. As a result, the city of West Palm Beach leads the nation on domestic partnership benefits.

County Commissioner Mary Lou Berger, school board member Karen Brill and Port of Palm Beach Commissioner Wayne Richards have all been working on urging their colleagues to implement a tax equity policies at their  workplaces as well.

In Delray Beach, the new mayor, Cary Glickstein, and new City Manager Louie Chapman Jr. acted promptly on PBCHRC’s request to update the city’s administrative policy against discrimination, harassment and bullying to include both “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression.”

In sharp contrast, the city managers in Boca Raton and Palm Beach Gardens continue to resist efforts to provide equal rights and benefits for their LGBT employees. While PBCHRC has been aggressively working in Boca Raton since last September, its work in Palm Beach Gardens is just gearing up.

In February, the Boca Raton Community Relations Board unanimously adopted a resolution recommending that the city council add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” to its jurisdiction. City Manager Leif Ahnell refused to ask the city council to vote on the CRB’s recommendation.

Since last September, City Manager Ahnell and City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser have managed to stymie all efforts to bring Boca Raton into the 21st century regarding the treatment of its LGBT employees, despite the clear message sent by four of the five city council members at a public hearing held last November to promptly take action.

Hopefully, some prodding from PBCHRC, including our “Boca Bigots Run City Hall” campaign will help turn the tide.

Our goals are to have the City of Boca Raton:

●    expand the jurisdiction of the Boca Raton Community Relations Board to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression”;

●    revise all city nondiscrimination policies to prohibit discrimination based on “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression”;

●    provide the full range of domestic partnership benefits to Boca Raton municipal employees;

●    and rescind Boca Raton City Ordinance No 5161, which allowed the city of Boca Raton to strip its municipal employees of all avenues of legal recourse in cases of employment discrimination based on “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression."

Although Boca Raton Deputy Mayor Susan Haynie and city council member Constance Scott appear to be sympathetic to PBCHRC’s goals for equal treatment and benefits for the city’s employees, neither has taken the action necessary to further our goals (i.e., formally asking the city council to direct city staff to take action). PBCHRC continues to be vigilant on its efforts on behalf of Boca Raton’s LGBT employees.
In other matters:

●    West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio appoints Robert Telford, a broadcast coordinator for the City's television station, as the Mayor's Liaison to the City's LGBT community.

●    PBCHRC Vice President Jess Blackman is working with the Florida Bar on an continuing legal education seminar on marriage equality to be held on June 28 in (of all places) Boca Raton!

●    PBCHRC assisted Scouts for Equality with their successful petition drive to help convince the Boy Scouts of America to drop the ban on gay scouts.

●    Boynton Beach Community Relations Board Member Ben Lowe has asked PBCHRC to draft the Boynton Beach Civil Rights Act to be considered by the city’s CRB.

●    Florida Atlantic University and the United Faculty of Florida have reached a tentative  agreement concerning limited domestic partnership benefits for university employees; however, the agreement is subject to ratification of the entire collective bargaining agreement.  Additionally, the university is considering the addition of "gender identity and expression" to its nondiscrimination regulations.

●    Jess Blackman and PBCHRC Vice President Secretary Rae Franks are working with Clerk and Comptroller Sharon Bock to urge the county commissioners to eliminate the existing inequities in the county’s domestic partnership ordinance.

●    PBCHRC board members Hutch Floyd and Matthew McWatters are in the in the early stages of work on LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies and domestic partnership benefits in Greenacres City.

●    Board Member J.P. Sasser is working as our liaison to the Area Agency on Aging’s LGBT Task Force to improve the lives of Palm Beach County’s LGBT seniors.

●    PBCHRC board members (and former PBCHRC President) Jamie Foreman is working to develop a training program for the judges serving in Palm Beach County to assist them in dealing more effectively with members of the LGBT community.

The Council’s updated website (pbchrc.org) has proven to be very popular. It is fully accessible on Apple mobile devices and has many new features, including links to our Facebook page (PBCHRC) and our Twitter account (PBCHRC). Please use the links to follow us on both Facebook and Twitter.

As you can see, much work remains to be done and we greatly appreciate your support in our endeavors.

Rest assured, we will continue to keep you posted.

Rand Hoch
President and Founder