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County orders domestic partner benefits
By ERICA HALL
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 Countys 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 dont discriminate based on sexual orientation or marital status, Councilman Larry Phillips said.
However, if a contractor doesnt provide benefits at all, it wont 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 didnt 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 wont 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 hasnt 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 countys 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), its not that cutting-edge, Phillips said.
The city of Federal Way doesnt 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 dont. Thats really what its about, he said.
Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, firstname.lastname@example.org