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Vote on domestic partnership bill delayed again

Janice Langbehn had taken the red-eye flight from Washington State to tell Florida senators her story, how she tried but failed to see her longtime partner before she died of a brain aneurysm at Jackson Memorial Hospital in 2007.

Langbehn didn’t get the chance.

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, sponsor of the domestic partnership bill (SB 196), told the standing-room-only crowd at the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee meeting Tuesday that she was temporarily postponing a vote on the bill, the second time a vote has been delayed because passage was unlikely.

“It’s unfortunate but I wanted this bill to get its best shot, and we’re missing a valuable member today,” said Sobel, referring to Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D.-Orlando, who was absent at the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee meeting but had attended a press conference supporting the bill Monday afternoon. “We needed a full debate and we didn’t have everyone.”

Sobel, D.-Hollywood, delayed a vote of a more sweeping bill at a Feb. 19th meeting of the Children, Families and Elder Committee, which she chairs, after critics said the bill was too broad. The bill was revised and “narrowed,” Sobel said, to mirror domestic partnership registries outlined in 18 Florida jurisdictions, including Sarasota and Pinellas, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

The revised bill allows either same-sex or heterosexual couples to register as domestic partners and offers limited rights such as visitation at healthcare facilities, hospitals and correctional institutions, buying real estate property and funeral arrangements.

Langbehn’s story attracted national attention, becoming a symbol for efforts to pass domestic partnership laws. She had been in Miami to embark on a cruise six years ago when her partner Lisa Pond collapsed. Langbehn said the staff would not allow her, or three of their four adopted children who were with her, to see Pond, even though she had legal documents faxed to her. She was only allowed to see her partner when a priest was performing last rites.

“If I can lend my voice to fight for equality in Florida, I will,” Langbehn said.