Council OKs domestic partner benefits

September 16, 2011

 

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County News
Friday, 16 September 2011 13:15

 

 

By Fallan Patterson
Staff Writer
St. Cloud followed Kissimmee’s lead Sept. 8 and approved domestic partner benefits for city employees after as many as 10 workers requested the city extend the health coverage to unmarried and same-sex partners.
Employees had until Friday to apply for the benefits. As of Thursday, only two had done so, which would cost the city approximately $3,700 more for both employees, city spokeswoman Sandra Ramirez said. 

Previously, the city had budgeted $30,000 annually for domestic partner benefits to cover  employees who had expressed an interest in the new benefit, which would cover both unmarried heterosexual couples and those in same-sex relationships.
However, after a recalculation, it was discovered the cost increase to cover the additional person would be an average of $2,000 per participating employee, Ramirez said.

The benefits take effect Oct. 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year for St. Cloud.
The city looked into offering domestic partnership benefits “to ensure that the city maintained its credibility as an employer that establishes and preserves fair and equitable labor practices for all employees,” the enabling ordinance for the benefit stated.

The benefits policy passed 3-2, with Jarom Fertic and Mickey Hopper both opposing. Neither council member returned calls for comment on their vote.
Joe Saunders, field director for Equality Florida, a statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered policy advocacy and education group, said he was elated by St. Cloud’s approval of the ordinance at the request of its employees.
“(The city) saw this is becoming the new standard and so they started creating the policy themselves,” Saunders, whose partner is from St. Cloud, said. “It isn’t just in the big cities like Orlando.”

Besides the two cities, other entities in the county offering the benefit are Toho Water Authority and Kissimmee Utility Authority. Saunders said he hopes these entities have set the standard for the Osceola County School District and Osceola County government to draft similar policies.

“We know these are some of the larger employers in the area,” Saunders said. “People need to understand that families come in all shapes and sizes. We are seeing across Florida that more and more policy is beginning to reflect public opinion.”

Setting the standard
Kissimmee City Commissioner Cheryl Grieb was surprised to learn after her election in 2006 that employees had never asked the human resources department about domestic partner benefits. She brought the idea to the commission and it passed in March 2010 as the first government entity in Osceola County to offer health benefits to domestic partners.

While Grieb has been with her partner for 19 years, Kissimmee’s policy was less about her, she said, than those working for the city.

“As a city commissioner, my job is to do the best for all the people. I don’t get to pick and choose who I represent,” Grieb said. “These are our employees who make us look good on a daily basis. Who they fall in love with doesn’t change who they are (and) what they do."

Grieb said she was pleased that St. Cloud, a city that once had a visible Ku Klux Klan presence with parades in the 1980s, had evolved enough in 30 years to set policy for domestic partnerships.

“Its acknowledging the fact that we do have people who are not under marriage as we know it and that they are just as important. This is one little, extra step,” Grieb said. “That’s why this is so great for St. Cloud, because of what (the city) stood for.”

 

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