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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
August 24, 2007

Sick-day act loses backers
after leaving partners out


Columbus--An initiative to require employers to give their workers seven paid sick days a year is losing backers because domestic partners were left out of it.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio and Planned Parenthood walked away from the Healthy Families Act at the end of July. They join America Votes and Cleveland Area Jobs with Justice, who have chosen to withhold their support.

Ohioans for Healthy Families, which is led by the Service Employees International Union, filed the initiative with the state in April and is circulating petitions to put it onto the 2008 ballot.

The act is part of a campaign in several states to make working conditions more family responsive. The model for the measures in other states includes time off to care for unmarried partners, both same-sex and opposite-sex.

But the Ohio version doesn’t, although it does include leave to care for an ill spouse and time for a non-biological parent to care for a sick child.

Ohioans for Healthy Families said unmarried partners were omitted on purpose to make it more likely to pass.

The LGBT lobby group Equality Ohio voted in June to oppose the measure for this reason, although they support the act’s basic purpose. They asked members of the coalition backing it to reconsider, and work to change it.

Other progressive groups who typically partner with Equality Ohio and the LGBT community remain in the coalition, including Progress Ohio and Toledo Area Jobs with Justice.

They are in what Progress Ohio director Brian Rothenberg called a “catch 22.” Toledo Jobs with Justice spokesperson Karen Krause said that while her group is still in the coalition, they are not circulating any petitions.

The situation is a test of the two-year-old Equality Ohio’s ability to negotiate with older progressive organizations.

In this case, the SEIU assembled the groups to circulate petitions to bring the measure to the state legislature. Once signatures are gathered, the legislature will either pass it into law as it is, amend it in a mutually acceptable way, or vote it down.

If voted down, the measure goes to the voters to pass directly.

The backing organizations, which include unions, Democratic Party groups, progressive religious groups, children’s groups and others, all agree that Ohio families would be better off with the law than without it.

The fracas began when it was discovered in May that SEIU had omitted unmarried partners.

SEIU spokesperson Jennifer Farmer said this was done after discussions that most of the coalition partners were not part of, in order to make the measure easier to pass.

Equality Ohio circulated a letter to the coalition members outlining its decision not to support the current proposal, and work to amend it. That caused all the groups to reconsider their earlier decision, and for some who stayed in the coalition to do so with less commitment.

Equality Ohio public policy and education director Bo Shuff said there has been some movement.

“SEIU has said that they would accept an amendment that includes unmarried partners, and that is big,” said Shuff.

But SEIU political director Gloria Fauss noted that there conditions to this.

“SEIU is not going to support any amendment that we haven’t seen,” she said. “We will support any friendly amendment put forth by a coalition partner,” which doesn’t include Equality Ohio, nor the two groups that left in July.

Fauss added that Ohio’s constitutional marriage ban amendment prevents the Healthy Families Act from including unmarried partners. However, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled last month that it only outlaws civil unions, not recognition of partnerships.

Shuff said there are several opportunities for the measure to be amended, including by legislators when they get it.

“Equality Ohio has been meeting with legislators to do that,” Shuff said.

He noted that polls show about three quarters of Ohioans support the proposal, so even though the legislature is hostile to it, they will likely pass it to keep it off the ballot. They won’t care if it gets amended at that point.

“That’s where a friendly amendment is possible,” said Shuff.



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