Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Palm Beach County Human Rights Council: Florida attorney general opens door for domestic partner benefits

(Tallahassee, Florida) Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum's Office has implemented a policy that allows his employees to use sick leave to care for their domestic partners.

"With this pro-family policy, Attorney General McCollum has become the second constitutional officer in Florida history to recognize the needs of non-traditional families," said Rand Hoch, President of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council is a non-profit organization that has been in the forefront of domestic partnership issues in Florida for more than 15 years.

At the Council's request, Florida CFO Alex Sink instituted a policy permitting her office's employees to use sick leave to care for domestic partners.

On October 17, shortly after Sink's policy went into effect, Hoch wrote to Attorney General McCollum asking him to consider implementing a similar policy.

"By doing so, in times of family emergencies, all of your employees will have the same opportunities to care for their family members," Hoch wrote.

By letter dated December 17, Cathy Christensen, McCollum's Human Resources Administrator, notified the Hoch that the Attorney General's sick leave policy would would not specifically address domestic partners per se, it would "provide enough latitude" for employees to use their sick leave to care for their domestic partners.

"While CFO Sink's policy specifically addressed domestic partnerships, Attorney General McCollum's policy is more circumspect," said Hoch.

"Since the Office of the Attorney General is, in effect, the state's law firm, I can understand his reluctance to formally recognize domestic partnerships," said Hoch.

"Still, the effect of both pro-family policies is the same," said Hoch. "Employees working for two of our state's constitutional officers now may use sick leave to care for their domestic partners in times of emergency,

Currently, the University of Florida, Florida International University, Broward Community College, Florida Keys Community College, Hillsborough Community College and Miami-Dade College are the only state employers offering the full range of domestic partner benefits. Those benefits include health insurance, as well as sick leave and bereavement leave.

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council has not yet heard from Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles Bronson, who also was asked to revise his office's policy.

Early next year, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council intends to ask Governor Crist to direct Department of Management Services Secretary Linda South to investigate the possibility of offering domestic partner benefits to all state employees.