Holmes Beach backpedals on domestic registry proposal

In what was considered to be a groundbreaking step Aug. 13, commissioners unanimously voted to move forward with the creation a domestic partnership registry.

But they took a step back at their Aug. 29 meeting, retreating from the proposal to draft an ordinance adopted by the Manasota League of Cities and other Florida cities that would give limited legal rights to couples who live together in a domestic partnership.

The registry could make it easier for domestic partners to visit one another in hospitals, make health care and funeral decisions, among other rights afforded to married couples, but is far more limited than marital rights.

It was considered to be a symbolic act by the city because the benefits would be limited, however, with a reciprocity provision, Holmes Beach citizens could find advantages in other cities and counties that also have adopted the registry.

Commissioner Pat Morton was the first to reverse his vote of support.

“I think it’s going to be a total nightmare for Holmes Beach,” said Morton. “It should go to the county first.”

Commission Chair Jean Peelen said she has not heard of any problems from any city that adopted the registry.

“In fact, all I’ve heard is that it’s been a great success,” she said.

Commissioner David Zaccagnino, who was absent when the registry was approved, agreed with Morton.

“I agree with the idea, but I don’t think it’s our place,” he said. “It should be done at a higher level.”

Peelen said it amounts to a symbolic message to the county commission to take up the issue.

“It’s an opportunity we have to say to our citizens that we understand and support the idea that your partner should be allowed in the hospital with you,” said Peelen. “It has little to no effect in Holmes Beach. The passage of this kind of law is doing something good for our citizens and I don’t see why we shouldn’t do it.”

Zaccagnino said there’s more to it than meets the eye. “What if a decision is made at the doctor’s office and it gets back to the son or daughter? A legal process begins and the courts are going to want the information from the city.” He maintained the city should not be dragged into those types of situations.

City attorney Patricia Petruff said those types of situations happen all the time anyway and the registry “doesn’t change that. What it does is provide a mechanism to grant a surrogate for health care rather than come to someone like me who is going to charge whatever I charge for the document.”

Commissioner Judy Titsworth suggested the city draft a letter of support to the county. But Peelen said, “That’s just passing the ball and kicking it upstairs. We have a rare opportunity to show our citizens where our hearts and minds are.”

Grossman offered a compromise by agreeing to draft a letter to the county, but “if they don’t do anything, I’d like to bring this back up again here.”

Commissioners agreed to the compromise and gave a unanimous consensus to draft a letter of support to the county with the understanding that if the county commission doesn’t act on it, Holmes Beach would reconsider adopting the registry.

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