Same Sex Benefits Update Set For Friday Agenda Study

I received a heads up late Wednesday afternoon from City Manager Doug Thomas that city staff will update commissioners on the results of their survey of nearby local governments that have adopted same sex benefits for employees.

Here’s exactly what he wrote me:

Pursuant to my comments following your February 6, 2012 presentation to the City Commission, please be advised that I have asked our Director of Risk Management & Purchasing, Karen Lukhaub to attend this Friday’s Agenda Study Session at which time we will provide an update on our preliminary review regarding same-sex health care benefits. Karen will be covering information about the results of a survey of various public employers regarding such benefits; the types of documentation required by employers providing same-sex benefits; as well as other policy, financial information and associated issues. We will be seeking some initial feedback and direction from the City Commission about what direction and/or any other information they may want as part of their deliberations on the matter.

I don’t know what exactly to expect beyond that. I don’t love the agenda study forum as a place for discussion. It occurs in a small room, with little or no audience sava a couple of members of the press. The idea that staff will seek additional direction from commissioners theoretically means commissioners could quietly say, “Let’s just let this drop.”

I don’t expect that will happen. I do expect the commissioners, who are honorable people, to follow through on their commitment to a work session and real study of how to implement this effectively. That was the clear 5-2 direction from our very productive earlier discussion.

But I am also a worst-case scenario thinker.

So I’m asking you today, if you are able, to email and/or call Commissioners Edie Yates, Justin Troller, Keith Merritt, Don Selvage, and Mayor Gow Fields. Here is their contact information.

Just a couple of sentences will suffice: “Thank you for your consideration. This is important to me. Keep moving forward.”

Again, I don’t know what the survey of cities will say. But I would urge commissioners and everyone else to peruse this story from the Orlando Sentinel. It’s from 2011, but it provides a good roundup of the universally minimal budget and administrative impact on other local governments, particularly Orlando, Tallahassee, and Sarasota County.

Here are a couple of key excerpts:

Some Florida local governments and agencies offer domestic-partner benefits to male-female and same-sex partners, but Orlando offers the benefit only to gay employees. The reasoning is that heterosexual workers can legally marry their partners, while gays cannot.

But few Orlando employees have taken advantage of the benefit, and the financial impact on the city has been relatively minor. Records show that in 2010, domestic partners were covered under just seven employees’ medical insurance, at a cost of $17,291. Two other retired employees included domestic partners on their policies, but the city does not contribute to dependents’ premiums for retirees, so there was no extra cost to the city.

Here’s another:

In Sarasota County, nine employees have domestic-partner health benefits, all of them opposite-sex couples, an official said. In 2008, when county leaders considered adopting the new policy, four times that many were expected to apply. Exact totals were unavailable, but the cost to county taxpayers is about $30,000, an official said.

And Tampa just did a very interesting thing — establish a domestic partner registry for city citizens that would facilitate visitation in hospitals and other such basic rights. I certainly support that idea, but it’s not what I’m asking from Lakeland.

What’s telling is how uncontroversial the unanimous vote was. No political price. No political risk. Tampa is not so different from Lakeland politically.

Anyway, let’s keep moving. And I appreciate the city staff moving expeditiously on this. Frankly, they’ve moved faster than I expected considering all the craziness with districts and USFP that must occupied time. Let’s see what they found.

Creative Commons License image credit: Alan