The bill was co-sponsored by Council President Nancy Floreen, Vice President Valerie Ervin and Councilmembers Phil Andrews, Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich, George Leventhal and Duchy Trachtenberg. The equal benefits bill also had the support of County Executive Isiah Leggett.
The County has a longstanding policy, in law and practice, against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Montgomery County already grants equal benefits to a same sex domestic partner of a County employee that are offered to an employee’s spouse, through Bill 29-99, effective March 3, 2000. Navarro’s bill would simply extend this law to many employees of County contractors and subcontractors.
The legislation will extend equal benefits to a same-sex domestic partner of a covered employee recognized under a marriage license, domestic partnership or civil union granted out of state or to a same-sex domestic partner as defined in the new law. The legislation only covers employees who perform work for the County on a contract that is currently covered by either the County’s Wage Requirements Law or the recently enacted Prevailing Wage Law.
Benefits that may be extended under the legislation could include bereavement leave, family medical leave, sick leave, health benefits, dental benefits, disability insurance, life insurance and retirement benefits.
“When it comes to civil rights, it is critical that we treat contract employees with the same respect as County employees when it comes to something as important as same-sex benefits for their domestic partners. This is a matter of basic fairness,” said Councilmember Navarro. “Because we are a large County with a diversity of employment situations, we have people who provide services and do outstanding work over long periods of time, but who do it working as contractors instead of as County employees. This should not stop them from receiving the same benefits as their opposite-sex counterparts.”
Some of the important exclusions from the bill are:
· Non-construction services contracts for less than $50,000
· Contractors with less than 10 employees
· Contracts with government agencies or non-profit organizations
· Contracts for public utility services
· Emergency contracts
· Bridge contracts based upon a contract awarded by another government agency
Construction contracts valued at less than $500,000 or financed by State or Federal grants
Maryland currently grants limited rights to same sex couples through legislation passed in 2008 to establish “domestic partnerships” in the state. According to Equality Maryland, the 2008 State laws included 11 protections for domestic partners, including hospital visitation and the making of funeral arrangements for each other. The organization said the State laws also make allowance for a domestic partner's name to be added or removed from the deed of a residence, without incurring a tax liability, as with married spouses.
Montgomery County’s law granting equal benefits to County employees was upheld by the Maryland Court of Appeals in the case Tyma v. Montgomery County, 369 Md. 497 (Md. 2002).