(Palm Beach Gardens, Florida) –At last night’s meeting the Palm Beach Gardens City Council voted unanimously to offer health insurance benefits to municipal employees’ domestic partners and their dependent children.
In 2007, at the request of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council. the city recognized employees’ domestic partners with regard to personal leave, acute illness leave, bereavement leave and the Employee Assistance Program. However,citing hard economic times, the city declined to offer employees with domestic partners equal health insurance benefits.
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC) is a local non-profit organization which, for the last 25 years, has been dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. The organization has also been the prime mover for domestic partnership benefits for public employees in Palm Beach County for more than two decades.
Since 2007, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council continued to ask city officials to consider extending health insurance to employees’ domestic partners,
Last February, PBCHRC Vice President Jessica Blackman, a Palm Beach Gardens resident, sent a letter to City Council members, renewing the organizations request.
“On Valentine’s Day, it seems appropriate to ask the City Council to now offer the same family health insurance benefits to employees with domestic partnerships as the city has long offered to married employees.”
However, again citing economic hardship, City Manager Ron Farris informed Blackman that because of hard economic times, the city was still not in a position to extend equal family benefits to employees with domestic partners.
During the summer, based on the city’s growing economy and other factors, the city’s bond rating was upgraded from “stable” to positive”.In addition, the city’s finances were strengthened by the savings the city incurred by the decision to self-insure its employees for insurance.
Last week, Palm Beach Gardens firefighter/paramedic Sloan Grimsley sent a letter to Ferris renewing her request for the city to consider offering domestic partnership health insurance. Grimsley and her wife, who were married in New York, are raising the family’s two adopted children.
Although Grimsley currently pays for dependent coverage to provide health insurance for her children, her wife is not covered under the existing Palm Beach Gardens policy.
During the budget discussions at last night’s City Council meeting, Ferris alluded to the requests made by Grimsley and other employees, as well as those made by residents and PBCHRC,
In light of those requests, he told the City Council that staff had looked into providing health insurance to domestic partners and their dependents and determined the benefits were now affordable.
Ferris estimated the annual cost to be “somewhere between fifty and one hundred thousand dollars annually”, depending on the number of enrollees.
With less than 20 minutes of discussion, the City Council voted unanimously to direct staff to implement the benefits, with a target date of January 1, 2013.
“What happened in Palm Beach Gardens last night probably sets a national record for the shortest deliberations on domestic partnership benefits,” said Rand Hoch, President and Founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.
“The city manager was fully prepared and an excellent job explaining the issue to the City Council Members,” said Hoch.
“I am happy Palm Beach Gardens is moving in this direction,” said City Council Member David Levy. “Our city recognizes the value of all of our employees”
As a result of the efforts of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, domestic partnership benefits are currently offered by the municipalities of Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Jupiter, Lake Worth, Palm Beach Gardens, Wellington and West Palm Beach, as well as by Palm Beach County, the Palm Beach County School District, the Port of Palm Beach, the Palm Beach County Health Care District, Palm Beach State College, the Children’s Services Council, Palm Tran, Seacoast Utility Authority, the Solid Waste Authority and all five of Palm Beach County’s constitutional officers.
More than sixty-five public employers across Florida now provide domestic partnership benefits to their employees.