Hillsborough Commissioners won't examine domestic partner benefits - what are your thoughts?
SeÃ¡n Kinane about almost 5 years ago
You heard about this on the WMNF Evening News. What do you think? Post your reactions.
In a 5 to 2 vote today the Hillsborough County Commission, county staff remains banned from researching the option of offering domestic partner benefits to county employees – a measure originally championed by former Commissioner Ronda Storms.
Recently elected Commissioner Kevin Beckner said he made the motion to get rid of the 2004 rule against discussing domestic partnership benefits because it was the only way for a the conversation on equal healthcare rights for county employees to proceed.
Contrary to the bulk of the discussion from other commissioners, the issue was not about whether Hillsborough County should adopt domestic partnership benefits, Beckner said, but whether the commission should get rid of the Rhonda Storms-era ban on even considering it.
Commissioner Jim Norman says that because Beckner was being direct, he deserved a direct response to the motion.
Commissioner Mark Sharpe quoted President Obama in asking for American families and the government to tighten their belts because of the economy. Sharpe made an impassioned speech about why he opposed Beckner’s motion, calling it “irresponsible” considering the county’s budget cuts.
Sharpe told Beckner they should work together to address the healthcare issue separately from the issue of domestic partnerships.
Board of County Commission chair Ken Hagan and Board members Al Higginbotham and Kevin White voted against Beckner’s motion to lift the ban.
Beckner asked Christina Swanson, the county’s director of employee benefits, to estimate how much a domestic partner benefit would cost the county or how many employees would take advantage of it.
Swanson says that other counties spend up to 1.25% more on health benefits when they add on domestic partner benefits. She also says that because of the rising cost of health insurance and budget problems, the health benefits of all employees may be cut.
Both county administrator Pat Bean and county attorney Renee Lee said that Hillsborough is legally bound to the 2004 action of the Board to forbid any study of domestic partnership benefits until it is overturned.
The only support Beckner got came from Commissioner Rose Ferlita, who supported Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio when she extended domestic partner benefits to city employees, though she said that newly-elected Beckner’s timing was “atrocious.”
Before the vote on Beckner’s motion failed, five members of the public spoke against it, while four spoke in favor. Several members of the audience wore a sticker that read “Explore Equality.” Cathy James says that most of the employees at her company that receive domestic partner benefits are in opposite sex partnerships. Of those who opposed Beckner’s motion, some cited economic concerns, while others, like Donna Koonse, stated moral reasons.
After the vote, Beckner said he thinks that the Board of County Commissioners “should be able explore issues without being “handcuffed by the decision of prior Boards.”
A television reporter asked Beckner about the appearance that he was pushing a ‘gay agenda.’
Rev. Phyllis Hunt, senior pastor of Metropolitan Community Church in Tampa, said she is “deeply saddened” that the County Commission would not lift the limits on exploring domestic partner health care benefits.
One of the five people who spoke against lifting the County Commission’s ban on asking county staff to research domestic partner benefits was Terry Kemple, president of Community Issues Council, or CIC. Yesterday, Kemple sent an email to CIC members congratulating them on putting pressure on the Commission to reject Kevin Beckner’s proposal to lift the ban.
Kemple’s email quotes two emails from what he called “the aide to one of our commissioners” who’s name he did not release in order to, quote, “ protect the source.” Kemple would not tell WMNF who the commissioner or the aide is.
The aide emailed Kemple that, quote, “you’re doing a great job,” because the commissioner had received 10 emails in support of Beckner’s motion and 258 in opposition.
Beckner said that one-third of the messages that his office had received were in favor of his motion and that the unnamed commissioner’s aide should not have got involved in that manner.
Kemple said that the aide’s actions were appropriate.