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April 29, 2005

Volume 33,
Issue 17

Sat, Feb 27, 2016

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Spokane City Council extends benefits to Gay employees
Spokane City Council extends benefits to Gay employees
picture Al French - Supported

by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

The Spokane City Council approved domestic partner benefits for city employees on Monday, April 25. The 5-2 vote came after months of heavy lobbying from Inland Northwest Equality (INWE), a coalition of individuals and organizations that advocate for equal treatment of the city’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender citizens.

“It’s a damn good feeling over here to have beaten back the forces of darkness,” Brad Read told the SGN this week. Read began advocating for domestic partner benefits for city employees four years ago when he chaired the city’s Human Rights Commission. “Monday night we won a veto-proof victory 5-2, but the three hours of debate included some of the most offensive rhetoric I have heard yet.”

Community Impact Spokane, an anti-Gay group, strongly opposed extending the benefits to domestic partners. The organization, which labels the “homosexual agenda” as one of its “major area[s] of concern,” had organized a dozen people to testify before the council. They mainly cited moral, religious and fiscal considerations.

“This proposal sends the wrong message to kids,” testified Penny Lancaster, a leader of Community Impact Spokane.

“It’s a perversion of God’s design for a man and a woman,” said Patrick McCord.

However, supporters outweighed opponents at Monday’s city council meeting. The proponents who testified included a Presbyterian minister, a union representative and Gay youth.

“I am a Gay youth. This is not a choice for me,” said Chris Erickson. “I don’t see why I am discriminated against.… I consider myself a very worthy employee.”

Read told the council that equal benefits for city employees was a matter of basic fairness. “This ordinance is about workplace equality and not creating separate classes of employees,” he said.

However, not all the city council members were convinced by the proponents of domestic partner benefits. City Council members Brad Stark and Bob Apple cited potential costs. Apple went further, suggesting that the benefits might tempt a partner into a relationship.

“Perhaps, the most blatant piece of crap came from one of the council members, Bob Apple, who compared this benefit policy to prostitution,” said Read. “He argued that an employee could use this benefit package to entice someone to be his or her partner, thereby exchanging benefit money for a sexual relationship.”

According to Read, the idea to extend domestic partner benefits to employees began at a public appearance by Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard. Spokane’s then-Mayor John Powers, publicly pledged his support for the idea during the event.

However, the proposal faced several hurtles over the years. A committee of community activists and the city’s human rights commission drafted a version that was later rejected by the council which cited potential hardships between the city and its representative unions. The issue was revived a year later when the council referred the matter to the legal department following a study session with the concerned parties. It went on the agenda a few months later, but faced staunch opposition from Republican Mayor Jim West, who said he would veto the measure.

“He has said he will veto it, based on cost, but I believe cost gives him a convenient shield behind which to hide his bigotry,” said Read. “And, besides, we have enough votes to override him.”

The current proposal, sponsored by City Council President Dennis Hession, will allow domestic partners to obtain health care, life insurance and pension rights. Employees can also use family leave to care for their partners. Domestic partners would have to submit an affidavit declaring the status of their relationship to be eligible.

“We have been somewhat aggressive about ensuring that people are treated fairly. We have a pretty aggressive human rights ordinance that was passed a few years ago that we are very proud of. It seems that this is along that tradition,” said Marlene Feift, a spokesperson for the City of Spokane. “There is a question from some of our leaders about the cost issues, because we are in the middle of budget cuts, but obviously five of the seven council members felt that the fairness issues and the need to serve all of their employees outweighed the cost issues in this case.”

Currently, only non-union employees and the City Council members themselves can take advantage of the benefits, but local labor unions can bargain with the city for domestic partner benefits. The city has nine “bargaining units” that represent its employees, according to Feift.

“The ordinance that was passed…only affects those people not in bargaining units. Bargaining units would have to negotiate for the benefit. They are all handled under their various contracts,” explained Feift. “So, right now, it only impacts a very small group of people at the city. That may change as the various bargaining groups go through their negotiations process as their contracts elapse.”

Local 270 of the American Federation of State and Municipal Employees, which represents 1,100 employees of the City of Spokane, said they plan to request domestic partner benefits in future contract negations. Michael Smith, staff representative, said that “AFSME was committed to that end,” and praised the City for “step[ping] up to the plate.”

“I think that this is a normal thing that is going to be happening more and more and more,” said Smith.

Read said he expects an initiative or petition to be introduced to repeal the benefits for city employees. A similar effort had been launched to repeal an anti-discrimination ordinance, which was amended to include sexual orientation and gender identity. “We feel ready for the fight,” he said.
Cherie Rogers - Supported
Dennis Hession - Supported
Joe Shogan - Supported
Mary Verner - Supported
Mayor Jim West - Opposed
Brad Stark Opposed

GENERAL GAYETY
Leslie Robinson

NOT THINKING
STRAIGHT
Madelyn Arnold

LESBIAN NOTIONS
Paula Martinac