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Aug 24, 2007
V 35 Issue 34

 
 
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Redmond votes to extend benefits to same-sex partners of employees
Redmond votes to extend benefits to same-sex partners of employees
Redmond votes to extend benefits to same-sex partners of employees Unanimous vote comes after threat from Lambda Legal

by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

The Redmond City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday, August 21, to extend benefits to their employee's same-sex partners. The benefits are tied to the state's new domestic partnership law and go into affect as of the registration date of the domestic partnership.

The council acted after a threat by Lambda Legal to file a lawsuit on behalf of veteran police officers, Commander Kristi Wilson and Lt. Betsy Lawrence, who have been denied benefits offered routinely to the spouses of married employees. Wilson has spent 14 of her 20 years as a police officer working for the City of Redmond. Lawrence has been with the city 16 of her 23 years in law enforcement.

"We were pleased that the vote was unanimous. We were pleased that the city sent a strong message that each of their employees is valued and deserves equal pay for equal work, regardless of their sexual orientation," Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Tara Borelli told the Seattle Gay News on Wednesday. "We applaud them for taking action to quickly to provide their employees with these benefits. The employees had waited for these benefits for many years and asked for them repeatedly at the collective bargaining table. So, we asked the city to provide these benefits quickly so there wouldn't be any delay."

Lawrence says she paid $800 last month on eye wear, dental check-ups and prescription drugs for her partner Kim and her two step-sons, ages 11 and 15. Three of her other children were already covered under Lawrence's health plan.

"I used to always say that I do 100 percent of the work but I am compensated only 60 percent. I don't know if that is an accurate percentage, but that is how I felt," said Lawrence. "Honestly, I can say we have been asking for these benefits for 10 years through the union contract negotiation process.

"The city had been very unresponsive. When I sat at the negotiations table years ago they wouldn't even discuss it. They said, 'No, I'm not even talking about it. Were moving on'."

More important than the cost savings for her family, says Lawrence, is knowing that she could take paid time off to care for her children, should her partner fall ill, or, worse yet, something were to happen to her while carrying out her police duties.

"I actually have some peace of mind that they will actually recognize Kim as my partner if something were to happen to me at work, which is a very real possibility in my profession," she says.

Wilson told the SGN last month that her desire to see equal coverage increased drastically after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in January. Her partner of eight years is a stay-at-home mom for their two children and is uninsured.

"Probably the biggest problem, which reinforces the need for health care, is my partner doesn't have adequate health care," said Wilson. "So for me, the fortunate thing was that the city covered my surgery and treatment, but my partner wouldn't have any medical care through them. The financial expense of not having medical care, through the surgeries and the treatment, literally would have bankrupted us."

The vote puts the city in line with other municipalities, such as Seattle, Burien, Spokane, and King and Snohomish counties. Eastside cities, including Bellevue and Newcastle also acted in recent months to adopt domestic partnership benefits.

The city of Bellevue unanimously approved such benefits last June after Lambda Legal filed suit against the city on behalf of three gay employees. Newcastle adopted the benefits only days after Bellevue did so. Kirkland has provided domestic partner benefits since 2002.

Staff Writer Lisa Wardle and Contributing Writer Devin Glaser contributed to this report.

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