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Published: Sunday, 6/10/2012

Domestic partner bill: Yes

Health-care benefits should be extended to domestic partners of Toledo city employees, period. Contract re-openers with the city's main firefighters' union should be handled separately.

Toledo City Council members lost sight of the issue at hand last week, and were slapped down by Mayor Mike Bell.

On the recommendation of Councilman D. Michael Collins, a former police officer and loyalist to public-safety unions, nine of 12 councilmen approved domestic-partner legislation but only with the caveat that in doing so Mayor Bell must go back to the bargaining table with Local 92, which represents more than 500 firefighters. They directed Mr. Bell to reopen Local 92's contract as it pertains to health-care contributions against the advice of City Law Director Adam Loukx, who told them that doing so violates the city charter on two fronts.

The plan was to see if the union would -- get this -- be receptive to something more than the $916-per-employee contribution it already gets from the city each month. That's akin to asking a kid if he or she wants free candy. Of course the union would take more.

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Never mind the anti-union stance Mr. Bell took in support of Issue 2, the failed statewide referendum for collective-bargaining reform in 2010, or the fact that his term expires next year. Domestic-partner benefits and greater health-care contributions for firefighters cannot be tied together.

Council has no authority to direct a sitting mayor to reopen negotiations; it only votes for or against what is brought to it. The legislation, according to Mr. Loukx, also violates the charter's single-subject rule.

Either of those were reason enough to keep the proposals separate. Instead, council put Mr. Bell in the awkward position of vetoing the entire bill. He now plans to reintroduce his proposal for domestic-partner benefits at an agenda review meeting on Tuesday. A final vote could come June 19.

Toledo needs to provide health-care benefits to all registered couples, without judgment or favoritism. Lucas County has done it. So has the University of Toledo, the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, Owens Corning, Ohio State University, Franklin County, and dozens of other public and private entities, including other Fortune 500 companies.

Those are secondary reasons. Providing benefits to domestic partners is simply the right thing to do.

The irony is that costs were cited as much of the original reason for opposition. Those anticipated costs are hardly egregious: A maximum of 2 percent of the city's work force -- 42 people -- are expected to enroll, which would cost Toledo $410,000 a year in additional health premiums.

Costs should not factor into fairness issues, anyway, but that estimate is likely on the high end.

In Lucas County, only four out of about 4,000 county workers signed up. If costs were really the issue, why did Mr. Collins and others attempt to reopen one of the city's largest union contracts.

It's time to stop playing games. Health-care benefits should be extended to domestic partners of Toledo city employees. If council believes it should explore the possibility of greater contributions to the firefighters' union after that, so be it. But the two issues should not be linked.



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