Tuesday, August 19, 2014

West Palm Beach approves same-sex benefit requirements for contractors

By Eliot Kleinberg - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

WEST PALM BEACH — It’s official. Contractors and people who do at least $50,000 in business with the city must offer equal family benefits to all employees, including those in same-sex relationships.

The city commission Monday voted 5-0, becoming the first public employer in Palm Beach County to impose the rule.

The rule covers businesses with five or more employees. Exceptions: companies that provide no benefits to employees’ spouses or dependents; government entities, contracts for sale or lease of property, emergency contracts, and provisions that would violate grant requirements or federal or state laws or rules.

The city also could waive compliance if it gets only one bidder, or determines no bidders can comply with the domestic partners rule, or decides at a public meeting that imposing the requirement would result in the city not getting the best value.

The commission had voted 3-2 on the first reading, on Aug. 4, with commissioners Kimberly Mitchell and Shanon Materio opposed. Both had said they supported the rule in principle. Mitchell worried about the idea of the city demanding something. She said she’d rather reward businesses by giving credit in bid considerations to those who provide the benefits. She also worried about imposing rules on local offices of national companies.

Mayor Jeri Muoio said had said a survey of the companies that do business with the city found that “there would be little effect” because nearly all businesses already meet, or are exempt from, the rule. Materio had wanted to study that survey .

“The more elected officials learn about the benefits of encouraging city contractors to provide equal benefits to the families of their their lesbian and gay employees, the more they understand the importance of treating everyone fairly,” said Rand Hoch, president and founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.

The local non-profit organization has pushed numerous local public employers to enact more than 75 laws and policies providing equal benefits for employees in nontraditional families.

Similar ordinances have been approved by the Broward County Commission; the Broward towns of Hallandale Beach, Oakland Park and Wilton Manors; and the cities of Key West and Miami Beach.


PBCHRC - President's Message - August 19, 2014

What an incredible month this has been.

On August 5, Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Diana Lewis ruled that Florida's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, making her the fourth judge in Florida to reach this conclusion. (Last month, prior to the hearing on this case, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance endorsed her bid for re-election to the Circuit Court.)

Earlier that day, the Boynton Beach City Commission voted unanimously on PBCHRC's request for it to have staff look into implementing domestic partnership benefits. Staff is expected to report back to the City Commission by September 16, 2014.

On August 18, the West Palm Beach City Commission unanimously approved an equal benefits ordinance to require city contractors to provide the same family benefits to employees' same-sex spouses and (both same- and opposite-sex) domestic partners as the contractors offer to employees' legally recognized (i.e., opposite-sex) spouses.

Mayor Jeri Muoio introduced the ordinance, which itself was based on a request PBCHRC first made to then-Mayor Lois Frankel back in 2007. The ordinance passed first reading on August 4 with Commissioners Keith James, Sylvia Moffett and Ike Robinson voting in favor of Mayor Muoio's proposal. Commissioners Kimberly Mitchell and Shanon Materio spoke out - and voted against - the ordinance.  However, when the equal benefits ordinance came up for final approval, the vote to approve it was unanimous.

The August 26 primary elections are less than a week away.  PBCHRC and the PBCHRC Voters Alliance (PBCHRCVA) hope that our successes continue in the primary elections - and beyond.

Throughout the summer, the Voters Alliance has been engaged in voter identification, early voting and absentee ballot campaigns. We are in the process of finalizing our get-out-the-vote campaign. Throughout our 26 year history, these efforts have resulted in record turnout by Palm Beach County's LGBT voters and their allies. We hope to repeat this success in 2014.

The Voters Alliance endorses candidates who support LGBT initiatives and privacy rights, based, in part, on:

*   How a candidate has voted on LGBT issues, and
*   How a candidate has supported the Palm Beach County LGBT community.

The candidates on the August 26 ballots that have been endorsed by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance include:
*   U.S. Congressman (Dist. 20) - Alcee Hastings
*   U.S. Congressman (Dist. 21) - Ted Deutch
*   Governor - Nan Rich
*   Attorney General - George Sheldon
*   State Representative (Dist. 81) - Kevin Rader
*   Circuit Court Judge (Group 14) - Diana Lewis
*   Circuit Court Judge (Group 30) - Jaimie Goodman
*   County Commissioner (Dist. 6) - Melissa McKinlay
*   School Board Member (District) - Karen Brill
*   School Board Member (Dist. 4) - Justin Katz
*   School Board Member (Dist. 6) - Marcia Andrews
*   School Board Member (Dist..7) - Debra Robinson
*   Soil and Water Conservation District (Group 5) - Karl Dickey

Please note that not all of these candidates will appear on your ballot.

In addition, PBCHRCVA has endorsed the following candidates who will be on the November 4 ballot -  but not on the August 26 ballot:

*   U.S. Congressman (Dist. 18) - Patrick Murphy
*   U.S. Congresswoman (Dist. 22) - Lois Frankel
*   Palm Beach County Port Commissioner - Peyton McArthur

Following the primary elections, PBCHRCVA will continue to screen, interview and endorse additional candidates for the November 4 general election. To keep track of our endorsements as they are updated, please check: www.pbchrc.org/endorsements.html.

On August 9, more than 200 PBCHRC supporters - including more than 40 public officials and candidates - mingled and partied at our fabulous biennial Summer Soirée. This year's event was held at Casa de Oro al Lago, the West Palm Beach home of our hosts Christopher Caneles and Steve Nesbitt. We are most thankful for Christopher and Steve's generosity and hospitality. PBCHRC also thanks our event underwriters and sponsors: Echo, Christina's Catering, Congressman Mark Foley, Scott Velozo and Stephen Mooney, Rae Franks, Esquire, P.A., Joseph Pubillones Interiors, Patrick Murphy for Congress, Sid Lesowitz and Peter Rogers, the Law Offices of W. Trent Steele, Wood Kinnard and Alberto Arias, Don Todorich of The Corcoran Group, and my firm, The Law and Mediation Offices of Rand Hoch, P.A.

Special thanks also go out to Scott Velozo for, once again, donating his time and graphic artistry to create the alluring event logo, invitations and advertising.
With the progress on marriage equality that is sweeping the nation, it now appears certain that marriage equality will reach Florida by the end of June 2016 at the latest. (Both U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and I have made this prediction!).
While there have been pro-marriage equality rulings from state court judges in Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties, no marriage licenses are being issued in Florida. Judges have imposed stays of their decisions pending review by the state's appellate courts. And Florida Attorney General Palm Bondi is fighting each and every case that she can to deny us equal marriage rights. She even is attempting to delay any progress in Florida by urging the state to wait until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the matter (perhaps as late as June 2016). Quite hypocritical for one who has been a staunch supporter of states' rights. But Pam Bondi is a master of hypocrisy. The twice divorced Bondi, having failed at two marriages, speaks out in court and in the media on the sanctity of marriage. You can't have it both ways, Pam!
It is important to keep in mind that until the entire state of Florida recognizes same-sex marriages (or until Congress updates applicable federal laws), married gay and lesbian Florida residents will continue to be denied the Social Security and Veterans Affairs spousal benefits which are currently enjoyed by legally married gay men and lesbians living in states which recognize marriage equality.

Therefore, the most important race in Florida this year is the race for Attorney General. Incumbent Attorney General Pam Bondi must be defeated. Fortunately, Attorney General candidate (and longtime PBCHRC supporter) George Sheldon is the one who can defeat her. Please click here to take a moment to make as large a contribution as you can to - and to volunteer on - George's campaign.
While we anxiously await decisions other marriage equality cases in Florida, two of these need to be highlighted.

Palm Beach Gardens residents Sloan Grimsley and Joyce Albu, along with seven other Florida same-sex married couples, have sued the state in federal court for recognition of their out-of-state marriages. If they are successful - and if Pam Bondi does not appeal to the federal 11th Circuit - the State of Florida will be required to recognize out of state same-sex-marriages. Kudos go out to Sloan, Joyce and the other plaintiffs - as well as the ACLU of Florida - for bringing this lawsuit in federal court.

The issue of recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages is also in state court before the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach. Florida Atlantic University student Gildas Dousset, whose husband is a longtime Florida resident, was denied in-state tuition that is granted to opposite-sex married couples. If Gildas is successful, the State of Florida - or at least Palm Beach, Broward, St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River and Okeechobee counties - could be required to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages. Kudos to Gildas, his husband and to his attorney George Castrataro for taking a stand.

Until all federal and state civil rights laws become LGBT-inclusive - and until marriage equality is extended throughout Florida - PBCHRC will remain vigilant in its efforts to end discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
Since 1988, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council's activists - all volunteers - have been screening 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.
Working to elect LGBT-supportive public officials has resulted in the enactment of more than 70 local laws and policies which now provide Palm Beach County's LGBT residents and visitors with both equal protection and equal family benefits.
The Council's current projects include persuading:

* The City of Boca Raton to rescind Ordinance No. 5161;

* The City of Boynton Beach to amend their nondiscrimination policies to include "gender identity or expression" and to offer the full range of domestic partnership benefits; 

* The City of Riviera Beach to amend its nondiscrimination policies and ordinances to include "sexual orientation" and "gender identity or expression";

* Florida Atlantic University to amend its anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy to include "gender identity or expression" and to eliminate the discriminatory provisions in the school's domestic partnership health insurance policy;

* The Chief Judge of Florida's 15th Judicial Circuit in and for Palm Beach County to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in mandatory diversity training for judges and court personnel;

* All public employers within Palm Beach County to: (a) adopt policies which specifically prohibit discrimination based on "sexual orientation" and "gender identity and expression"; and (b) provide the same employment benefits to families based on domestic partnerships or out-of-state same-sex marriages as are provided to families based on legally recognized marriages;

* All public employers within Palm Beach County offering domestic partners health insurance to provide annual payments to offset (or fully reimburse) the additional federal taxes assessed on the value of those payments.

In keeping with PBCHRC's commitment to promoting equality through education, advocacy, direct action, impact litigation and community outreach, later this year, PBCHRC Vice Chair Jess Blackman, Secretary Rae Franks and Litigation Chair Trent Steele will be participating in Lavender Law, the National LGBT Bar Association Conference in New York. While there, Trent will also be participating in the Family Law Institute. In addition, I will be participating in the 2014 Out & Equal Workplace Summit in San Francisco. These conferences bring together the best and brightest legals minds in the country, and PBCHRC is proud to continue its relationship these incredible legal organizations.
Finally, PBCHRC welcomes Boca Raton attorney Reagan South to its Board of Directors. While in law school she competed at the National UCLA Sexual Orientation Competition, arguing against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" on behalf of a lesbian naval officer who was dishonorably discharged as a result of her sexual orientation.  Reagan also served as the Vice President of Lambda United, which served as an activist and support group for LGBT students and their allies.  Reagan is an active member of the Florida Bar, the Young Lawyers Section, and the Gay and Lesbian Lawyers Network To read more about her - and other members of PBCHRC's Board of Directors - click here

Since 1988, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council has worked diligently on behalf of the LGBT community. Rest assured, we will continue to do so in 2014 and beyond.

Judge Rand Hoch (retired),
President and Founder

This paid electioneering communication, which is independent of any party, candidate or committee, is produced, sponsored and paid for by the The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance.
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance.
Post Office Box 267
West Palm Beach, Florida 33402
(561) 358-0105