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2013 Legislative Session
TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – A revised bill to set up a statewide domestic partnership registry that would provide those on it with certain rights normally reserved for married couples was delayed again March 12 in a Senate committee.
The measure’s sponsor, Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, said a key member of the Children and Families Committee, Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, was absent. Sobel chairs the committee.
The measure faces a close vote in the committee, which is scheduled to meet again next week, after Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said March 11 she was satisfied with the reworked bill (SB 196).
The measure would create a statewide domestic partnership registry and allow registered couples to visit their partners in hospitals, nursing homes, correctional facilities and mental health facilities. They would have the right to be notified in the case of an emergency involving their partners and to be health care proxies for them. In cases in which no will exists, a surviving partner could oversee the remains of a deceased one.
Sobel pulled a broader version of the bill from consideration at the committee’s Feb. 19 meeting when it became apparent it wouldn’t pass. She then narrowed its scope, hoping to pick up votes.
Opponents of the legislation include Bill Bunkley, president of Florida Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and John Stemberger, president of Florida Family Action, the public policy arm of Florida Family Policy Council. Both spoke against Sobel’s bill during the Feb. 19 meeting, arguing it seeks to obtain spousal rights for same-sex couples despite Florida’s 2008 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
In anticipation of the scheduled consideration of the revised bill, Stemberger released an open letter to the committee March 12 summarizing his organization’s continued opposition to the legislation.
Stemberger said domestic partnerships or civil unions are “unnecessary, bad public policy and are dangerous” because they “mislead” participants into believing “they have proper estate planning” and because they are “legal weapons” used to “advance same-sex marriages.”
A majority on the ten-member committee will still be difficult to attain, but Detert’s vote, added to those of the four Democratic members, would give it a shot.
“I don’t think the opposition will get more votes,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of the homosexual advocacy group Equality Florida. “The fact that (Detert) is satisfied bodes well.”
Detert said last month she supports gay couples but considered the earlier bill too broad – a “walking lawsuit.”
Sobel said the reworked bill is similar to provisions in existing local laws around the state. Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Orange counties, and cities, including Tampa and Orlando, already have such domestic partnership registries.
Even if the bill clears the Senate Children and Families Committee, it faces four more committees before the full Senate could consider it. The House version (HB 259) by Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, needs approval from four committees and is yet to be put on the agenda of any of them.
The issue was never heard in a Florida legislative committee before last month.
With reporting by Florida Baptist Witness.
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