published Friday, November 1st, 2013

Cook: Domestic partner benefits plan

This morning, City Councilman Chris Anderson will introduce legislation that would provide medical and health benefits to committed domestic partners — same sex and opposite sex — of all Chattanooga government employees.

In the months leading up to this day, Anderson and the rest of the council have witnessed a storm of public demonstration and standing-room-onlyprotest. The issue, easily the most contentious before this council or others in recent years, has turned into a microcosm for the 21st-century tension among religion, sexuality and civil rights.

Anderson, who says he is the first openly gay politician to win a contested election in Tennessee, has heard people compare Chattanooga to Sodom and Gomorrah. He's been called wicked, evil and a pedophile. He's had an armed Chattanooga police officer guarding him at each meeting.

"Every Tuesday," he said. "Since this started."

So before we review what this legislation actually is, it is important to distinguish what it is not.

"It is not a recognition of same-sex marriage. It is not a new definition of marriage. It is not a moral or religious issue in terms of homosexuality," Anderson said.

Simply: It is an issue of workplace fairness and equality.

The legislation would provide benefits to any domestic partner of a city employee. These benefits include medical, health and family leave.

"Whereas, a qualified domestic partner ... of a City employee shall be eligible for the same medical and leave benefits as are available to the spouse of a City employee," the proposed ordinance states.

To be eligible, employees and domestic partners must meet certain qualifications. Both must be over 18 and shared a primary residence for at least 365 days prior. Both must be living in a committed and intimate relationship, and both must be jointly responsible for basic living expenses.

To prove this, an employee and his or her domestic partner must provide to the city at least three of the following documentations:

• Joint ownership of residence or joint lease.

• Utility bills listing both names.

• Joint ownership of a car.

• Joint bank or credit account.

• A will or trust that designates the other as beneficiary or trustee.

• A retirement plan that designates the other as beneficiary.

• Signed power of attorney that designates shared powers between employee and partner.

Neither the employee or his or her domestic partner can be married or in a legal union with anyone else. Neither can be related in any way (two sisters living together cannot apply, for example), except any same-sex couples who have been legally married in other states.

Employees and their partners must offer a sworn affidavit about their relationship and must also submit a letter to the city should it ever dissolve.

The legislation, which would create a domestic partner registry within the city, includes an updated nondiscrimination clause. The city's current clause does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

"Making us the largest city in Tennessee to not include that," Anderson said.

Anderson said roughly 50 employees have contacted him in support of the legislation; only one has said otherwise. While it's been suggested Anderson should recuse himself from the council vote since he could benefit from its passage, Anderson said he won't even enroll in the plan.

"I don't have any plans to apply for the benefits therefore I won't receive any financial benefit if it passes so under state law I don't have to recuse myself," he said.

He estimates a miniscule cost increase to the city.

"$180,000," he said. "Less than one-tenth of one percent of the city budget."

The legislation reflects a trend moving across the country. According to a recent Forbes report, roughly four out of five American employers offer domestic partner.

While drafting the legislation, Anderson researched more than 130 other American cities (focusing mainly in the South) and multiple area employers -- BlueCross BlueShield, Unum, VW and "all the major banks in town," he said -- that already offer similar benefits.

"This is about attracting and retaining the best employees we can get and treating all of our employees fairly," he said. "It is not a social crusade. It is just good government policy."

The work is to see legislation for what it is instead of what it isn't. This domestic partner benefits plan is fair, forward-leaning, just and smart. It is not hysterical, wicked, a covert op or a gay agenda.

This Tuesday, there is an 3:30 meeting at City Council that's open to the public. The council is expected to vote of the proposed resolution the following week.

Between now and then, plenty of things will go said and unsaid. Just remember this about the proposed ordinance.

"It's fairly standard," Anderson said.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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aae1049 said...

No one person or group is the higher authority on right and wrong, most certainly not liberal biased media.

The fact is the city is currently cutting the police and fire pension, and at the same time expanidng benefits to people that have never served the city. Their biggest contribution is that they live with a city worker, or have a homesexual relationsip with a city worker. They are not employees. The timing or pushing is interesting. I think the push is the ACA deadline, and Obamacare is very expensive, so why not let the taxpayers fund the tab.

What is really wrong here is cutting the police and fire pension to give benefits to another group that does not serve the city. Further, expanding healh insurace to non married couples is a huge expense, and the voters should decide by referendem on the May or August 2014 ballot.

The penson issues are decided by referendum, so should the expansion of health insurance in terms of cost. The city's health costs currently increase at $3 million a year. Chris Anderson's and his advocates rights do not supercede the rights of the voters. Let the voters decide, and explain these costs and the additional costs the taxpayers will have to fund.

All taxpayers have a right to ask about the cost of funding benefits based on sexual preferences.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=629066503804987&set=pb.167584136619895.-2207520000.1383419071.&type=3&theater

November 2, 2013 at 3:11 p.m.
sagoyewatha said...

Agreed, It needs to go to a vote of the taxpayers who are registered voters. Why should this turn on just the votes of council members, it won't come from their pockets. What are their agendas, from political to sexual? Please do not talk about "fair," which is nothing but a theoretical construct. Better to talk about what is logical and rational...let the PEOPLE speak.

November 2, 2013 at 6 p.m.
aae1049 said...

Right On, Aagoyewatha, let the voters decide, not a pack of biased council. They referendum the pension. Let us vote damn it.

November 2, 2013 at 6:07 p.m.
fairmon said...

I do not object to gay marriage, civil unions or contracts. I do object to the additional spending by the council that have the fiduciary responsibility to be good stewards of the tax payers money. It is irritating to hear a council member say it is only $180,000 per year or only a low percent of the budget. That mentality is how the last mayor and council caused a property tax, a sewer tax and other increases amounting to a 19% increase in legislated cost to live in the city.

The question should be why benefits are extended to any spouse or dependent. Provide a set benefit dollar amount for each employee and allow each employee to select how they want their benefit dollars spent. The term fair is often used; how is it fair that those who prefer not to marry or cohabit support those that do? The question is why are singles discriminated against regardless of sexual preference? You won't hear those holier than thou that spouted off about the morality saying a word about how unfair it is that singles are discriminated against at all levels of government. Why are the headings on income tax filings different?

Political leaders find it too easy to spend other peoples money based on a special interest group or their personal ideology. It is not a politicians role to decide what the "American dream" is for every American.

November 6, 2013 at 6:10 p.m.
fairmon said...

Some of the justification for spending more tax dollars is comparing to other governments. Why has there not been a survey of the metropolitan employee supply area of the private sector with a comparison of city and county employees compensation for like or similar work? Why has there not been an efficiency and productivity study by an unbiased private firm with recommended improvements? How can a part time politically motivated council and an over loaded mayor expect to assure efficient operation of all departments? It appears only the names have changed with the promises of more value per tax dollar quickly forgotten.

November 6, 2013 at 6:20 p.m.
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