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Issue date: September 15, 2000

City offers benefits to registered domestic partners City offers benefits to registered domestic partners (September 15, 2000)

By Laurie Phillips

During the March primary election, California voters showed they were split about whether to extend benefits to domestic partners. On Tuesday, the Mountain View City Council showed it was not -- it voted unanimously to offer benefits to domestic partners of city employees.

The vote came after about 15 minutes of discussion by council, most of which examined the legality of what was proposed.

The benefits will be offered to city employees listed in the state domestic partnership registry, and will include medical, dental, and vision coverage; and family, sick, and bereavement leaves. A council report prepared on the proposal showed these to be common offerings to married heterosexual couples.

Vice-Mayor Nancy Noe said benefits are due to all city employees to show them the city values their work.

"Whether that (a domestic partnership) is recognized in a religious ceremony or a state ceremony, it's a fairness issue," Noe said.

After asking about the logistics of how partners would receive benefits, Council member Mario Ambra agreed that offering them is necessary.

"There's a lot of reasons people don't get married, but they still take care of each other," Ambra said. "This measure reflects that."

Two months ago, Ambra dissented on the domestic partners benefits proposal, saying the issue was one voters should decide. They did on March 7, and Ambra followed the will of his constituents.

Of the Mountain View residents who voted in the March election, 95 percent had an opinion on Proposition 22, the initiative that would have denied legal recognition of gay and lesbian marriages. Roughly 60 percent voted against the so-called "Knight Initiative," according to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters.

Statewide, the numbers were reversed, with about 61 percent saying they wanted to deny gays and lesbians legal recognition of their relationships.

Mayor Rosemary Stasek, who sponsored the domestic partners benefits proposal, said no poll of city employees had been taken. But after conducting a study of 17 other cities and four private companies, Stasek believes the benefits are something city employees would want. The study indicated that 12 of the cities and all of the companies surveyed do offer some type of benefits to domestic partners.

Kathy Farrar, the city's employee services director, said that to apply for the benefits, two people would need to declare their partnership legally, providing an affidavit to the city, signed by both persons, that affirms both persons are "in a relationship of mutual support, caring and commitment" and "share common necessities of life," among other things.

Partners can obtain the affidavits through the state registry, which defines domestic partners as people of the same sex under the age of 62. Over that age, it recognizes both same- and opposite-sex domestic partnerships.

Adding domestic partners to city employee insurance plans would cost the city about $32,000 per year, Farrar estimated. If the domestic partners choose to have insurance coverage for dependents, it would cost about $2,900 more per additional dependent.

The study on which Stasek relied in sponsoring the domestic partner benefits proposal indicated that in some cities, such as Berkeley, approximately 10 percent of the city's total work force have applied for the benefits.

Palo Alto, another of the cities surveyed, has offered benefits to domestic partners for about four years, said Mayor Liz Kniss. About 4.5 percent of its city employees have applied for those benefits.

"From my experience, it causes some flurry at the time ... and then you never hear about it again," Kniss said. She added that has been the case in Palo Alto where the vote passed 8-to-1. The lone dissenting council member was concerned that benefits could be misused without a legally binding union between partners.

Kniss said "relatively few" people applied for the benefits when they were initially offered.

"I don't know whether it's because people are hesitant to do that (apply), or it's not well known," Kniss said. "But we haven't heard anything about it since."


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