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Domestic partnership bill gets a second chance Tuesday

A bill that would give domestic partners certain rights, including hospital visitations, property rights and end-of-life decisions, will have another chance at passing its first hurdle on Tuesday.

At a press conference Monday, Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, said Senate Bill 0196 has been revised and “narrowed” to mirror domestic partnership registries outlined in 18 Florida jurisdictions, including Sarasota and Pinellas, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

A state law would “end the patchwork” of domestic partnership registries around the state and “provide legal protection,” said Sobel, who has tried to get a bill heard the past four years.

She presented a more sweeping bill at a Feb. 19th meeting of the Children, Families and Elder Committee, which she chairs, but delayed a vote when it became clear the bill didn’t have the backing to pass.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said she thought the original bill was too broad but said she would support the rewritten version. “It needed to be changed and I think it’s fine.”

The bill applies to both same-sex and heterosexual couples and only offers a fraction of the rights afforded married couples, said Martha Chumbler, a lawyer with the firm Carlton Fields, who helped write the new version of the bill.

The revised version primarily covers visitation rights in hospitals, correctional and healthcare facilities, the right for couples to room together if they’re in the same assisted living facility, be notified in the case of emergency, own property together and make funeral arrangements.

“What we’ve tried to do is get it to the most basic, human rights,” Chumbler said. “How can someone be denied the right to visit their life partner of 30 years.”

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, which advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community said “those protections are few but they’re vital.”

“If you live on the border between a municipality that has these protections and one that doesn’t, in that urgent moment when seconds matter, do you have to consult a GPS to determine which hospital you’re going to race to? Which place will respect you as a family and which one will treat you as a legal stranger,” Smith said.

According to the group, 6.7 million Floridians currently live in jurisdictions that grant access to domestic partner benefits and protection either through registries or public employee benefit programs.

If the bill passes the Children, Families and Elder Committee Tuesday, it still has to pass four other committees in the Senate. A companion bill in the House (HB 259), sponsored by Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, will have to clear four committees but hasn’t yet been heard.