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September 23, 2011

Council panel hears from public on DP benefits

Cleveland--Cuyahoga County councilors heard from supporters and a few opponents of domestic partner insurance benefits for county employees on September 16.

The proposed measure, which would grant partners the same benefits that spouses get, was put forward last month by councilor Sunny Simon of District 11.

Five other members have signed on as cosponsors: President C. Ellen Connally of District 9, Dale Miller of District 2, Yvonne Conwell of District 7, Julian Rogers of District 10 and Dan Brady of District 3. That leaves five other members whose support is possible but not yet committed.

The city of Cleveland enacted similar partner benefits for city workers in July, and Cleveland Heights has had them for years.

Members of the Justice Affairs Committee and the Human Resources, Appointments and Equity Committee held a joint meeting to hear the public testimony.

“They heard from a few opponents, no organized opposition necessarily, but there were a few opponents, some with religious concerns, some with very interesting arguments about how we need to have babies and this won’t get people to have babies,” said Cleveland Stonewall Democrats president Rob Rivera. “By far, though, most of the people that testified were supporters.”

Those supporters included CSD board members Kate Kennedy, Leslye Huff, her wife Mary Ostendorf and Steven Bennett.

Among other members of the organization who spoke for extending the benefits were two opposite-sex married couples, Rev. Bob and Joyce Strommen, and Cullen and Anne Sweeney.

“That was wonderful, to have two straight couples up there,” Rivera said. “Another person who testified is a guy running for Shaker Heights City Council, Dartanian Warr, who is new to us, talking about how his eyes have been opened in the last few weeks going door to door campaigning and meeting so many of us.”

“His testimony was quite powerful, I understand,” Rivera noted.

Warr, in addition to his candidacy, is a former commander in the Air Force.

The council committees are circulating a survey through the end of the month to get a grasp on how many employees would likely take advantage of the benefits package if it passes. One of County Executive Ed FitzGerald’s conditions for supporting the measure was having an estimate of its cost, and the surveys should provide that. FitzGerald is examining plans to save the county $2 million on its existing health care plans.

Rivera said that the committees will meet again either at the end of September or early October, once those surveys are returned.

“Obviously then, we’re hoping for a final vote on this soon thereafter,” Rivera said.

“We feel good. We definitely have six strong supporters, so we’re letting them know we stand with them and support them when they feel pressure or opposition to doing this,” he said, noting, “The strategy right now is to keep making calls, sending emails and letters to the five members of council that we have not received commitments from, including two Democrats that we are particularly reaching out to, but we have not given up on the three Republicans either.”

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