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Domestic partner law for city contractors eyed

By John Geluardi Daily Planet Staff
Tuesday February 20, 2001

After a background report was bogged down for two years in various departments, the City Council tonight will finally ask staff to prepare a domestic partner ordinance for city contractors. 

The council first directed the city manager to prepare an Equal Benefits Ordinance report in March 1999. The report is finally complete and the council will likely ask that the ordinance be prepared for approval by April 17. The ordinance is expected to take effect by July 1. 

If adopted, the ordinance will require nearly all businesses that contract with the city to provide domestic partners benefits to their employees. Certain employers may be exempt if they don’t offer benefits to any employees or have city contracts under certain dollar amounts, according to the city manager’s report. 

The ordinance will require domestic partners receive the same benefits married employees do including bereavement leave and health and retirement benefits. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said both the progressive and moderate factions of the City Council worked hard to move the ordinance through the city bureaucracy but it was held up by former City Manager James Keene. 

“We had two councilmembers from each side write the recommendation but for some reason the former city manager squashed it for two years by sitting on it,” Worthington said. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a few months after Weldon Rucker was made acting city manager the report was finished.” 

Keene told the Daily Planet in January 2000, that the report was bogged down in the Finance Department. He also said critical aspects of the report would depend on the structure of the Living Wage  

Ordinance, which had not yet been completed. 

Berkeley’s Living Wage Ordinance was adopted June 27, 2000. 

A former member of the East Bay Lesbian Gay Democratic Club, Nancy Carleton worked with a number of organizations and individuals who lobbied the City Council to adopt the ordinance two years ago. 

“The City of Berkeley was the first city in the whole world to enact a domestic partners law for city employees,” Carleton said. “It took over two years to get this far but I’m happy it’s moving forward.” 

According to the report, there are only three cities in the country that require a domestic partners policy from its contractors: San Francisco was the first, followed by Seattle and Los Angeles. 

The employers who will be affected include for-profit businesses that have a contract for $25,000 or more with the city to provide services, carry out construction projects and supply goods. Nonprofit employers who provide the same services will be affected if they have a contract with the city for $100,000 or more.  

Businesses that lease public property will have to provide domestic partner benefits if their gross annual receipts are $350,000 or more. 

According to the report, domestic partners will include any couple which signs an affidavit of domestic partnership and registers it with a government body or their employer. 

Carleton said having health insurance can save lives in cases of sudden and severe illness. “This ordinance can have a real impact on people’s lives,” she said. “It’s not just cosmetic.”