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Issue date: June 23, 2000


City pursuing domestic partners benefits City pursuing domestic partners benefits (June 23, 2000)

Council vote expected this summer

By Karen Willemsen

The city council agreed by consensus to formally consider offering domestic partners benefits for city employees. The council will likely vote on the issue this July.

Mayor Rosemary Stasek initiated the idea shortly after her January inauguration. She previously said she felt Mountain View would be better able to compete for prospective city employees if medical benefits were offered to same-sex couples.

At the council's June 20 study session, Kathy Farrar, the employee services director for the city, presented information about several Bay Area cities and counties already offering such benefits. Several major local high-tech firms, including SGI, Sun Microsystems, and Hewlett Packard, offer similar benefit packages.

In Palo Alto, 4.5 percent of municipal employees take advantage of the city's domestic partners benefits. In Berkeley, the figure is nearly 10 percent. However, the Los Altos council has never considered offering domestic partners benefits, said Layne Long, the Los Altos personnel director.

If Mountain View were to pass a domestic partners benefits regulation, city employees, including police officers and firefighters, who declare in writing that they are living with their partners in a committed relationship would receive the exact same benefits as married persons.

Such benefits would include medical and dental insurance, sick leave, and bereavement leave. Employees would also be able to pay toward insuring their partners' dependents, including children and parents.

Farrar estimated that it would cost the city approximately $32,000 to expand its current benefits. The cost of adding domestic partner dependents to employees' insurance plans could be as high as $2,400 per year for each dependent. The city would pay just a percentage of that amount; the employees would have the rest deducted from their paychecks.

Six of the seven city council members indicated that they would like to pursue the idea.

Councilman Mario Ambra dissented, saying, "It seems to me that this is a change in policy, and I'd prefer the voters to decide it."

Rene Dalton, a city traffic engineer, spoke against domestic partners benefits at the meeting.

"The city should instead consider promoting and partnering with community organizations that help to reduce the divorce rate and strengthen marriage and the family unit," Dalton said. He also stated that encouraging cohabitation between gay and/or heterosexual couples leads "our nation to pay an enormous price socially and economically."

Several Mountain View residents spoke on behalf of the proposal, though none are city employees.

Kathleen Jones, who said she spoke "on principle," told the council she receives domestic partners benefits through her partner's employer, SGI. "City employees should enjoy no less," Jones said.

When the city council takes up the matter this summer, it will need to decide several issues: (1) whether to offer the benefits, (2) whether to use the State of California's registry (www.leginfo.ca.gov) or to create a local one, and (3) whether to offer benefits only to same-sex couples, or also to unmarried heterosexual couples in committed relationships. 


 

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