@PBPost – West Palm rule would require same-sex couple insurance by contractors

PB Post

West Palm rule would require same-sex couple insurance by contractors

Posted: 1:16 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014

By Eliot Kleinberg – Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

The city this week took the first step, but not without dissent, toward becoming the first public employer in Palm Beach County to require contractors to offer equal family benefits to all employees, including those in same-sex relationships.

Commissioners voted 3-2 at Monday’s regular meeting to approve on first reading a rule that the city will make contracts worth more than $50,000 only with people or businesses that provide equal benefits to employees’ domestic partners.

Commissioners Kimberly Mitchell and Shanon Materio were opposed.

The rule would cover businesses with five or more employees. Exceptions: companies that provide no benefits to employees’ spouses or dependents; government entities, contracts for sale or lease of property, emergency contracts, and provisions that would violate grant requirements or federal or state laws or rules.

The city also could waive compliance if it gets only one bidder, or determines no bidders can comply with the domestic partners rule, or decides at a public meeting that imposing the requirement would result in the city not getting the best value.

A staff memo said similar ordinances have been approved by the Broward County Commission; the Broward towns of Hallandale Beach, Oakland Park and Wilton Manors; and the cities of Key West and Miami Beach.

Mitchell said she supports the intent of the law, but worries about the idea of the city demanding something. She said she’d rather reward businesses by giving credit in bid considerations to those who provide the benefits.

She also worried about imposing rules on local offices of national companies.

“When you are talking about commerce across state lines,” she said, “I think that that is a dangerous position to be putting the city.”

Mayor Jeri Muoio said she has some of the same concerns as Mitchell. But she said a survey of the companies that do business with the city found that “there would be little effect” because nearly all businesses already meet, or are exempt from, the rule.

Materio asked that the vote be tabled while she and colleagues study that survey and look into changing the language of the rule. Interim City Attorney Kimberly Rothenburg said this was just the first reading and all that could be done before the second and final vote, scheduled for Aug. 18.

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, a local non-profit organization that has pushed numerous local public employers to enact more than 75 laws and policies providing equal benefits for employees in nontraditional families, praised the proposed action in a release sent out prior to Monday’s meeting.

“It is all about equal pay for equal work,” Rand Hoch, the council’s president and founder, said in the release. “West Palm Beach has been in the forefront of equal benefits issues in Florida since 1992.”

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