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Issue date: March 31, 2000

City considering benefits for domestic partners City considering benefits for domestic partners (March 31, 2000)

Move could help recruit new staff to city government, says mayor

by Karen Willemsen

This year Mountain View found the political will it lacked in previous years to pursue the possibility of offering domestic partners benefits for city employees.

While still in the preliminary stages, the city council approved a motion from council member Sally Lieber to pursue Mayor Rosemary Stasek's request to pay for staff time to gather information on how other municipal governments, as well as local companies, have approached the idea.

The benefits would allow city staffers in same-sex relationships to sign their partners onto their own health benefits plan, just as married staffers can now. Stasek suggested that the policy apply to same sex couples in order to bring the city's policy in line with the state, which is setting up a registry of same-sex partners.

Stasek told the Voice she floated the idea at city council goal setting meetings over the past four years, but that discussion of Proposition 22, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, finally brought the benefits issue to the fore this year. Proposition 22 would prevent California from honoring same-sex unions recognized in other states, such as those recently found constitutional by the Vermont Supreme Court.

"I think the city hall staff has so much on their plate, we needed to give them a clear signal that this was important to us. Now they can do some good work researching the issue, so we can start to have a real policy discussion about this," said Stasek. "The reason we asked them to look at private entities as well is because as corporate community partners they do help to set the values for our community."

As of February, 1999, Palo Alto, Santa Clara County, as well as area companies Hewlett Packard, Netscape, and Sun Microsystems made the list of public agencies and private corporations offering domestic partners benefits. The cities of Sunnyvale, Milpitas, and several others do not.

Employee services director Kathy Farrar reported to the council that the agencies and companies providing information to the city indicated that typically "partners are not married, are 18 years or older, are not related by blood, are mentally competent to consent to contract, and to remain domestic partners indefinitely."

Farrar further indicated that most agencies required benefit recipients to notify them if their status changes, and promised to hold information on the program in confidence. Farrar added that as yet the city does not know how many employees would sign up for such benefits, therefore the cost to the city has yet to be determined.

"I would hope that the cost would be balanced by Mountain View's ability to recruit some highly qualified staffers that otherwise might go to another city," said Stasek. Benefits can included medical, dental, and vision care, sick leave, family leave, and bereavement leave.

Council members will review the issue at an upcoming study session.


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