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Palm Beach Town Council moves forward on domestic partnership benefits

News release from the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council:

PBCHRC Logo

(Palm Beach, Florida) --At a special meeting this morning on budget issues, the Palm Beach Town Council set August 13 as the date to make a final decision on whether to offer domestic partnership benefits to employees with same-sex spouses or partners.      

The Willis Team, an insurance consultant hired by the town to study domestic partnership benefits, had recommended offering the benefits to eligible employees.

"Willis makes this recommendation based upon the knowledge that the Town would like to be positioned as competitively as possible in the marketplace for talent acquisition purposes.  Blue Cross Blue Shield advises that there is not any financial risk or impact to the plan from an underwriting standpoint.  A domestic partner is not a larger risk from a health standpoint than a married spouse for underwriting purposes."

However, based on a projected annual cost of $72,510, Town staff recommend against implementing domestic partnership benefits at this time.

At today's meeting, Council Members Richard Kleid and Michael Pucillo asked the Town Council to extend family health insurance coverage to employees with same-sex partners.

"It is small dollars in the grand scheme of things," said Pucillo, noting that providing domestic partnership benefits would have a "positive effect on the town."

"It is the right thing to do, " added Mayor Gail Coniglio, who serves as a nonvoting member on the Town Council.       

Although he described the proposal as "de minimus in terms of dollars" Council President Pro Tem Robert Wildrick requested additional time to clarify which employees would be eligible to enroll their partners on the Town's health insurance plan.

Trent photo"I am disappointed the Town Council did not vote to extend domestic partnership benefits at today's meeting," said Trent Steele, a former Palm Beach resident and a member of the Board of Directors of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC).  "However, it appears that those who spoke out at today's meeting understand that this is about providing all of the town's employees with equal family benefits."

   Trent Steele

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council is a local non-profit organization which, for the last 25 years, has been dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.  The organization has also been the prime mover for domestic partnership benefits for public employees in Palm Beach County for more than two decades.

Town Manager Peter Elwell suggested that if the Town were to extend the benefits, the Town should rely upon the Palm Beach County Domestic Partnership Registry Ordinance to define who is eligible and who is not.

Palm Beach County has the nation's most stringent requirements for establishing domestic partnerships, according to PBCHRC President Rand Hoch, an employment lawyer who helped draft the county ordinance in 2006.

"The county ordinance not only requires couples to file a sworn Declaration of Domestic Partnership, but also must provide at least three supporting documents," said Hoch.
                        Rand Hoch

The Declaration of Domestic Partnership is used to establish that each partner:

    a.    is at least 18 years old and competent to contract;

    b.    is unmarried; 

    c.    is the sole domestic partner of the other person;

    d.    is not related by blood;

    e.    consents to the domestic partnership relation ship without force, duress or fraud;

    f.    agrees to be jointly responsible for each other's basic food, shelter and common necessities of life and welfare;

    g.    has not been a member of a domestic partnership for the past year;

    h.    shares his or her a primary residence with the other; and,

    i.    considers himself or herself to be a member of the immediate family of the other partner.

To establish mutual residence, applicants must provide at least one of the following documents:  a current copy of mortgage,  a lease or deed showing both partners' names or copies of current drivers' licenses, passports, tax returns, or other government issued photograph identification showing the same address for both partners.

To establish joint financial responsibility, applicants must provide at least two of the following documents: a current copy of mortgage, a lease or deed showing both names, a statement from a joint bank account, credit cards with the same account numbers for both persons, a vehicle title showing common ownership, a beneficiary designation for a retirement plan or life insurance policy signed and completed to the effect that one domestic partner is the beneficiary of the other, and wills which designate the other as the primary beneficiary.      

As a result of the efforts of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, domestic partnership benefits are currently offered by the municipalities of Delray Beach, Jupiter, Lake Worth, Palm Beach Gardens, Wellington and West Palm Beach, as well as 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 constitutional officers.

The Boca Raton City Council is also expected to vote on whether to provide domestic partnership benefits to its employees within the next few weeks.

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