News

County orders domestic partner benefits

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

The Metropolitan King County Council passed an equal rights ordinance this week requiring its contractors to provide domestic partner benefits to employees.

The ordinance applies to contracts of more than $25,000 and exempts contracts with cities or other governments, real estate contracts and collective bargaining agreements.

According to county officials, the ordinance requires that King County’s contractors are complying with a county policy of non-discrimination in employee benefits.

If a contractor offers benefits to a married partnership, it will also have to offer equivalent benefits to domestic partners “so they don’t discriminate based on sexual orientation or marital status,” Councilman Larry Phillips said.

However, if a contractor doesn’t provide benefits at all, it won’t be required to start providing them, Phillips added.

“Existing county code is very clear about non-discrimination, especially as it relates to sexual orientation and marital status,” he said.

But the policy didn’t have any teeth, Phillips said. The new ordinance will require contractors who offer benefits to married couples to offer them to domestic partners as well, otherwise the county won’t do business.

Phillips said the data is conflicted as far as whether costs increase for businesses to provide the benefits, but the city of Seattle hasn’t seen any increased costs, nor has there been a decrease in competition for bids.

County Executive Ron Sims’ spokeswoman, Elaine Kraft, said the equal benefits are “the coming thing” in a lot of major cities.

Sims proposed the equal rights ordinance last fall, but County Council members delayed discussing it until they passed a county budget.

Kraft said the impetus for instituting the ordinance in King County was “to provide healthcare for more people.”

The county’s new rules might be a progressive move among government jurisdictions, but larger private-sector employers have been going in this direction for some time.

“Considering the number of private-sector businesses (offering domestic partner benefits), it’s not that cutting-edge,” Phillips said.

The city of Federal Way doesn’t provide domestic partner benefits to its employees.

While some on the left of political and social issues have wanted to make this a national healthcare issue, and some on the right mourn the loss of heterosexual marital sanctity, Phillips said the point of the equal rights ordinance is to provide equal benefits.

“This is really about when you go to work and (co-workers) have benefits for their loved ones and you don’t. That’s really what it’s about,” he said.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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