CLEARWATER – A registry for couples in domestic partnerships could be among the first actions Pinellas County Commissioners approve in the year 2013.
After discussion on the matter at a Dec. 6 work session, Commission Chair John Morroni asked staff how soon it could be placed on the agenda. County Attorney Jim Bennett said it was too late for the Dec. 18 meeting, the last regular meeting for 2012, due to advertising requirements and would have to wait until January.
“Then I would ask for the first meeting in January,” Morroni said. “We’ll start the new year off right.”
Most commissioners voiced support for the registry that would allow two consenting adults, regardless of sex, to register with the Clerk of the Circuit Court as each other’s domestic partner.
The action would allow unmarried partners to visit one another in health care facilities and be included in discussions about their partner’s health. Partners would be allowed to make funeral and burial decisions and receive emergency notifications. They will be able to serve as a guardian designate should their partner become incapacitated. They would be considered a member of their partner’s immediate family.
Gulfport, St. Petersburg and Clearwater already have domestic registries for their cities, but they don’t apply countywide.
Jan Lowe said she was the one who approached city leaders in Gulfport about creating a domestic registry.
“They were very courageous to be the first city in the county to do that,” she said, as she showed off her registry card.
She said it was understood that being registered was not equivalent to marriage rights. That’s not intended, she said. She expressed concern about the county’s plan to create a separate database available to the public online.
“That could create a problem,” she said. “I encourage you to work on that.”
Commissioner Karen Seel also expressed concern about protecting privacy to keep registrants from possibly becoming “a target.”
County Attorney Jim Bennett said using a system that would create privacy, via a code or something, would make it more difficult for hospitals, funeral homes and others to identify domestic partners.
Seel asked that people be informed when they register that the information would be made public.
Clerk of the Court Ken Burke and the county’s legal staff have been working on the details for a registry for the past few months. Burke said registration should be about $50. Business Technology Services estimates costs for the registry to run between $11,000 and $15,000. Commissioner Norm Roche asked to consider giving a discount to people who had already paid to register in one of the three municipalities.
Lowe said a countywide registry would be the best solution for all people in a domestic partnership. She is most concerned about the ability to be there for her partner in the event of a medical emergency.
“Countywide makes more sense to me,” Commissioner Ken Welch agreed.
Lowe said if the county began a domestic registry, she would “camp out if I have to, to be first (to register).”
She wanted to be first in Gulfport but let a city councilmember go ahead of her.
Paul Valenti, director of Human Rights, said the proposed ordinance commissioners would be asked to approve in January is “pretty much is accord” with ones adopted by the cities.
“It provides baseline rights of a domestic partnership,” he said.
Joyce Henry with the ACLU told commissioners that a domestic registry benefits all unmarried couples, not just the ones in same-sex relationships.
“It removes obstacles at times of stress,” she said. “It makes Pinellas an even more welcoming place for residents and visitors. Also, needless to say, it is the right thing to do.”