Pinellas County may be about to create the first countywide registry for unmarried couples in the Tampa Bay area.
But it could take a while. County commissioners did not commit to the idea at their most recent meeting; they merely directed staff members to research the concept. At least three other Florida counties — Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach — have established such registries.
"It's one of those issues that makes sense to have a countywide standard instead of having the individual cities" pass ordinances, said County Commissioner Ken Welch, who proposed the idea. "Hopefully we come back with an ordinance that meets the need countywide."
Welch said he's not sure how the county could ensure that the registry also cover residents of municipalities. The county might have to allow a city to opt out of the registry.
"Hopefully, no city opts out," Welch said.
A county ordinance would probably closely resemble the one Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn signed into law this month.
The Tampa registry is designed to ensure that unmarried couples have the right to be notified as a family member in an emergency affecting the partner, visit each other in the hospital, make health care decisions for each other, make funeral arrangements for each other, and participate in the education of a partner's child.
Since Tampa passed its ordinance, becoming the first city in the Tampa Bay area to do so, St. Petersburg, Gulfport and Clearwater have also taken steps to create domestic partner registries. None of the three has yet voted on the issue.
Gulfport Mayor Mike Yakes and Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos said they intend to proceed to a vote rather than wait for the county to act. St. Petersburg City Council member Steve Kornell said his colleagues would likely do the same.
All three praised the idea of a countywide registry.
Cretekos said Clearwater's proposal applies to hospitals only in that city's jurisdiction. If a Clearwater resident were taken elsewhere, the hospital would not necessarily have to honor the city's rule. A countywide ordinance could avoid that type of conflict.
"I think it would make it easier for our constituents," Cretekos said.
Barring that, Clearwater would try to reach reciprocity agreements with other cities, he said. And, even if the Pinellas ordinance passed, Clearwater will still have to work out some agreement with Tampa in case a city resident ended up in a hospital there.
Kornell agreed that there are limits to city rules.
"Absolutely, it's better to have a countywide ordinance," he said. "I think it's great that the county's coming on board. I hope they'll do the right thing. The right thing is to provide rights to citizens, not take them away."
Largo and Pinellas Park — the county's third- and fourth-largest cities — have not acted on the idea.
Pinellas Park spokesman Tim Caddell said City Council members there would likely be open to a countywide ordinance.
"It obviously has not been taken up at a council meeting, although there was discussion at a workshop meeting," Caddell said. "There was no one opposing it. I don't think it would have any problem here at all."
Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.