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5 things to watch in Tampa today

TAMPA — There seems to be something for everyone today at Tampa City Hall.

Unmarried couples and backyard chickens could move closer to legal protection. Security for the Republican National Convention and Guavaween will be discussed. And officials will try to answer the question: Are corporations people, too?

Here's a glimpse of each issue, four of which are scheduled to come up at 10 a.m. or later at the City Council.

Domestic partnership registry

An ordinance drafted at the request of council member Yvonne Yolie Capin would make Tampa the first city in the bay area to create a domestic partnership registry for unmarried couples.

Tampa's registry would be similar to existing registries in Orlando, Gainesville and the counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.

Among other things, it would protect unmarried couples' abilities to visit each other in the hospital, make medical decisions for partners who are incapacitated, make funeral arrangements for a partner who dies and be notified as a family member in an emergency involving a partner.

Tampa's registry would be open to both heterosexual and homosexual couples, but Capin doesn't see it as a step toward legalizing same-sex marriage. The proposed ordinance says nothing in it "shall be construed as recognizing or treating a domestic partnership as a marriage."

City Council members have gotten more than 800 emails on the ordinance, the vast majority in support of it.

"This is something I'm pretty proud of as a community," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "I have not gotten one email, had one conversation, had one phone call in opposition to what City Council's going to do. That tells me not only that, as a city, we have come a long way, but that people see this registry as basic human decency."

Backyard chickens

Keeping chickens in Tampa is essentially illegal, but that would change if Susan Ramos has her way. Ramos, 45, wants to start a business selling coops to people interested in raising backyard hens.

Since 1990, the city's code has required that fowl and other farm animals be enclosed in an area at least 200 feet from neighboring homes. When a neighbor complains, code enforcement officers issue citations and urban chicken owners have to get rid of their brood.

Council members are scheduled to get a report on the issue, but not necessarily to take any action. Ramos suggests that Tampa follow the example of the Pinellas County Commission, which voted in December to allow up to four hens in unincorporated residential areas.

Republican National Convention radios

Council members will vote on whether to pay $6 million to Communications International of Vero Beach for more than 1,900 handheld and vehicle-mounted radios for the Republican National Convention, scheduled for Aug. 27-30.

Police say the radios are needed because up to 3,000 officers from other parts of Florida will be working convention security, and every officer needs to be on the same communications system.

Money for the radios would come from a $50 million federal grant. If approved, the purchase will be Tampa's largest RNC acquisition yet, bringing the total spent so far on convention-related technology and equipment to nearly $12 million.

Guavaween's fence

At 9 a.m., the Ybor Merchants Association is scheduled to make a presentation about its concerns over Guavaween.

City officials expect to hear complaints about Guavaween's fence. It allows the festival's sponsor, the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce, to charge admission and raise money, but merchants have said it kills business.

Fence or no fence, Buckhorn says he's focused on city costs.

"I don't care what you do; that's up to you, but if you need police officers, firefighters and solid waste crews, you're going to pay for them," he said. "If they take the fence down, and they still need the cops and the other extra stuff they're going to have to find a way to pay for it."

Corporate personhood

And if the rest of this isn't enough, council members are scheduled to discuss whether corporations ought to have the same rights as people to participate in politics.

At the request of council member Mary Mulhern, the council will consider a resolution to support amending the U.S. Constitution to provide that corporations are not entitled to the same rights as "natural persons." In particular, the proposal says corporate money spent freely to influence elections should not be considered constitutionally protected speech.

The "corporate personhood" resolution comes in response to the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court ruling that opened the door to unlimited corporate and labor spending in federal elections. City councils in New York, Los Angeles and Portland, Ore., have passed similar measures.

5 things to watch in Tampa today 03/14/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 11:30pm]
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