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COLUMN

Happytown: Domestic partnership bill introduced in state legislature

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, introduces bill for consideration in 2013 session

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STATING THE OBVIOUS

It might be conversationally expedient to apply the old "if at first you don't succeed" mantra to the Jan. 9 announcement that state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, had once again introduced a statewide domestic-partnership bill for consideration in the 2013 legislative session – after all, some draft of the initiative has been proposed every year since 2009. But that would diminish the recent success that local groups such as Equality Florida and the Orlando Anti-Discrimination Ordinance Committee have had when it comes to getting local government to offer a modicum of institutionalized decency for domestic partners. Since the 2009 enactment of Amendment 2, which put a gay-marriage ban into the state constitution, Florida has seen an vast increase in municipal ordinances recognizing domestic partnerships – a make-up sex hug that includes Orlando, Orange County, St. Petersburg and Sarasota, among others.

Sobel's bill (called "Families First" this year because marketing is everything) is effectively a rewrite of the state's marriage statute that includes some hefty edits: In her bill, "domestic partner" is, like, everywhere the word "marriage" is in the current law. But the bill also makes it clear that it is in no way an attempt to equate domestic partnership with marriage, thereby running afoul of the constitution.

"The state has a strong interest in promoting stable and lasting families, and believes that all families should be provided with the opportunity to obtain necessary legal protections and status and the ability to achieve their fullest potential," the text winks and nudges.

Equality Florida public policy director Mallory Wells, who has been on the front lines of this campaign since 2009, says that with the current rising tide of equality coming from local governments, now could be the time for a statewide streamlining of the process.

"The biggest thing about the bill is that it eliminates the patchwork," she says, alluding to the fact that all of the county- and city-level registries have different costs and enforceability. If passed, the bill would cover many of the general issues with which we've grown familiar: end-of-life decisions, hospital visitation, jail love, child care. "It grants all of the rights that the state affords a marriage … nothing federal, like taxes or Social Security," Wells says. "And it's not recognized across state lines. Folks like [Florida Family Policy Council president] John Stemberger will tell you it's a sneak attack for marriage. We welcome the conversation."

And so does he, apparently. According to the News Service of Florida, Stemberger's hackles have already been raised. "They're attempts to get around [the Constitution] and approximate a faux marriage," he told the news organization. "I think they're lucky if they get it debated."

Just the stats

 

$26 BILLION
GOV. RICK SCOTT'S estimate of the cost of Medicaid expansion over the span of a decade
in Florida to meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act.

 

$3 BILLION
Florida Agency for Health Care Administration revised estimate of that cost, factoring in the fact that the federal government will cover most of it.

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