TAMPA — Toss a coin to decide which is bigger at Tampa City Council today: the first vote on the ground rules for protests at the Republican National Convention or the final vote to create Tampa Bay's first domestic partnership registry.
Standing on their own, either could draw a crowd. Together, these two items and a few other things promise to make for an unusually busy day at City Hall.
Domestic partnership registry
This could come up anytime after 9:30 a.m. and is a public hearing. If council members vote to approve the ordinance, drafted at the suggestion of council member Yvonne Yolie Capin, Tampa would join communities like Orlando, Gainesville and the counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach in allowing unmarried couples to register as domestic partners.
Among other things, the registry would recognize the 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.
The registry would be open to both same-sex and straight couples, but the proposed ordinance says nothing in it "shall be construed as recognizing or treating a domestic partnership as a marriage."
While this would be the first domestic partnership registry in the Tampa Bay area, the city of Tampa, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and the St. Petersburg Police Department already offer health benefits to same-sex domestic partners of their employees.
If this does pass, don't rush to City Hall to sign up. The city clerk would have 90 days to set up the registry.
RNC 'Clean Zone'
In anticipation of the 10,000 to 15,000 protesters who could come to Tampa for the Republican National Convention on Aug. 27-30, Mayor Bob Buckhorn's administration wants to set rules for protests to protect demonstrators' right to free speech and keep downtown safe.
An ordinance coming up for the first of two votes would create a designated protest area near the convention site, plus a much larger "Clean Zone" covering downtown, Ybor City, the Channel District, Davis Islands, Harbour Island and a few other areas.
Inside the Clean Zone, virtually anything that could be used as a weapon — with one key exception — would be banned. The city also would establish permit procedures for parades and demonstrations in the Clean Zone. It also would set a 60-minute time limit on parades and rallies in the zone, something that civil libertarians have said would be a problem.
But city officials said this week they do not have the legal authority to stop gun owners with concealed weapons permits from bringing their guns to the protests. That's because the Legislature passed a 2011 law prohibiting cities from enacting any rules of their own on guns, and assessing them with big fines if they do.
City Council election
To start the meeting, which begins at 9 a.m., council members will hold their annual election for chair and vice chair. Charlie Miranda appears to be a safe bet to continue as chairman. But based on conversations with several council members this week, it's a not a sure thing that Mary Mulhern will be re-elected as vice chair. If the council does make a switch, that job might go to Harry Cohen.
More RNC security spending
The council will consider five different contracts totalling about $1.4 million. The contracts fall into three different categories:
• $992,490 to enhance existing police software and technology that allows multiple agencies to size up risks, share information, organize resources, and map, track and respond to trouble as it takes place.
• $319,400 for 200 new bicycles for a convention bike patrol.
• $150,730 for 13 Bobcat 4x4 utility vehicles for crowd management, safety and security duties during the convention.
If approved, these purchases would push the city's running total for technology, vehicles and equipment to nearly $13.3 million. Funds for all of the purchases would come from the city's $50 million federal grant for security at the convention.
Tampa bridge lighting
Council members will consider a contract for about $459,500 with Chicago artist Tracey Dear to illuminate four downtown bridges. Tampa Electric would cover $350,000 of the cost. The work is expected to be done by the Republican National Convention.
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403.