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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Struggling with Equal Benefits Ordinance Process

When Councilmember Robert Garcia approached me last Sunday afternoon to co-sponsor an ordinance that would be placed on the Council Agenda to mandate Equal Benefits for any business doing business with the City of Long Beach, I asked that we sit down and discuss exactly what was being proposed and also discuss the timing of doing something like this in the current economy. Councilmember Garcia told me we would talk but that he would go ahead with it without my co-sponsorship.

And he did the next day by placing it on the agenda with another co-sponsor for July 14, not the 21st.

So I have had to do extensive research on the concept and what other cities have enacted. As far as I can see, every city that has adopted this ordinance did so after several public hearings and with input from the business and gay and lesbian communities before the ordinance was crafted.

In fairness to everyone, we need to do the same: refer it to a council committee and the Human Relations Commission for public hearings and in-put. That way we can work out the details in public -- such as the dollar threshold for the requirement to kick in. Several cities set it at $50,000 and above -- some set it lower. Also in Minnesota, only employers with 51 employers or more (considered to be large employers) would be required to comply. They also exempt religious organizations. We also need to hear from the City Attorney about how we word the ordinance so not to conflict with our legal responsibility to select the lowest bidder -- which is now causing New York City problems.

The concept is right. The City should not do business with businesses that discriminate against their employees with domestic partners. And since it costs the same for an employer to provide health care benefits to the spouse of an employee as it would for the domestic partner of an employee it is only fair.

That being said, I believe the City Council has an obligation not only to propose law but to get as many people who will be impacted by that law involved. The Council has done this on fire sprinklers, lobbyist registration, second story moratorium, large trucks and many other proposed code changes. It just makes for better law. It just makes sense.

So I will be asking that we refer the matter to the Council Committee on Economic Development and the citizen Human Relations Commission so that the Council can support an ordinance that will really be effective.

Save Station 18

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