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St. Petersburg to consider domestic partner registry

ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County's largest city is on track to approve a domestic registry in time for Gay Pride Month in June.

Council Chair Leslie Curran and members Jeff Danner, Bill Dudley and Charlie Gerdes voted during a workshop Thursday to have legal staff draft an ordinance that the council could vote on within the next month that would make St. Petersburg the latest city to give rights to unmarried or same-sex couples.

The ordinance, modeled after one Tampa approved in March, would require health care facilities to allow any domestic partner listed on the registry to visit their partners and make care decisions if their partner is incapacitated.

The ordinance also would allow partners to direct burials, notify family members and become guardians of the partner's estate during times of duress.

In addition, the registry would allow the partner to participate in the education of the children of their mates, except in cases in which the other biological parent objects.

Council member Steve Kornell, who is gay, pushed his colleagues to approve the new rules to keep pace with a wave of other cities doing the same. Pinellas County and the cities of Gulfport and Clearwater are considering similar registries.

Kornell said many people don't understand why these rights need to be spelled out in an ordinance. He said he received an e-mail from a man who objected on the grounds that anyone can visit a patient if that person wants to see them.

"But the problem is if you're in a coma, you can't allow someone to visit you," Kornell said. "And then it's up to that clerk behind the desk deciding if it's right or not. This takes that possibility out of it. No clerk should deny a partner in that situation. With this, they won't."

Assistant City Attorney Jeannine Williams said she sought guidance from All Children's Hospital and Bayfront Medical Center and was told that beginning in January, all hospitals receiving federal aid were required to allow domestic partners access to patients and the control of their care. If anything, a city registry would help hospitals follow federal guidelines, Williams said.

Domestic partners would go to the City Clerk's office and pay between $30 and $50 to sign affidavits stating that they are partners. They would receive a certificate, which could then be shown at schools and hospitals.

Although the registry seems to have no opposition on the eight-member council, Jim Kennedy raised a few concerns.

He requested that city attorneys add language to the ordinance that would protect partners from getting sued by health care providers for past due medical bills. They agreed.

Kennedy's main concern, however, came with granting a domestic partner opportunities to participate in their partner's children's education, such as attending teacher-parent conferences and picking up children from school. He said that although the other biological parent could object, he was worried that they may not know that the domestic partner is participating.

"You're giving parenting authority to someone who, except for this registry, wouldn't have the authority," Kennedy said. "I don't see how we do that without the consent from the biological parent, who potentially is having their rights interfered with."

Kennedy asked that lawyers add a notification requirement to the biological parents, which Kornell refused to consider.

"That's a real overreach," Kornell said. "That adds another layer of a requirement that you don't see in other places. . . . I won't vote for this if we add this."

Jeff Danner sided with Kornell, saying Kennedy was being overly cautious.

"Biological parents can already allow people to pick up their children," Danner said. "This ordinance doesn't convey anything that's not allowed now. I don't understand what the problem is."

Council members agreed to not include the notification requirement.

St. Petersburg to consider domestic partner registry 05/10/12 [Last modified: Friday, May 11, 2012 1:40am]
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