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Back to drawing board for domestic partnership bill

Vowing not to give up, Democratic state Sen. Eleanor Sobel delayed a committee vote of a domestic partnership bill that looked unlikely to pass and still faces long odds.
The bill, which Sobel has been trying to pass for five years, would have extended rights of married couples in areas such as health benefits, hospital visitation and medical decision-making to non-married couples.
“This is an issue that affects hundreds of thousands of Floridians,” said Nadine Smith of Tampa, who is the executive director of the advocacy group Equality Florida.
“Those of us who are in committed relationships are treated as legal strangers at the moment the people who love us need us the most, when tragedy strikes,” Smith told lawmakers.
Many of the speakers Tuesday provided emotional testimony about being denied visitation when a partner was dying, being unable to make decisions about a funeral or being denied access to a loved one in an emergency.
Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, said it disturbed her when one woman said she didn’t feel like a human being. “There was a time when certain individuals were considered three-fifths of a human being,” Thompson, who is African-American, said.
While most of the testimony focused on a lack of rights for same-sex couples, Sobel stressed the bill was not just about gay partnerships. “It’s for all consenting adults,” she said.
Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, testified before the Senate committee, recommending the bill as a way to attract and keep businesses in the state.
“This is for me as much about jobs as anything,” he said, noting he didn’t want to have to tell companies that some of their employees would be “legally invisible” the moment they crossed the state line.
In Florida, 18 jurisdictions — including Pinellas, Orange, Volusia, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties — recognize domestic partnerships.
But Sobel’s legislation, SB 196, is “too broad” in scope, said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice.
“It’s a walking lawsuit as far as I’m concerned,” she said, but added later that she thinks it’s “fixable.”
Sobel, a Democrat from Hollywood, said she will rewrite the bill with a more narrow scope and present it again. Just getting the bill heard had significance, she said. "It's the first time, in my memory, that the Senate has even discussed this issue." 

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