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Equal Benefits Bill Would Require City Contractors to Provide Domestic Partner Benefit Coverage

June 18, 2004

On May 5, 2004, the New York City Council passed a bill which, if it becomes law, will require certain city contractors to provide domestic partner benefit coverage to their employees. The Equal Benefits Bill applies to all companies that hold city contracts with a value of $100,000 or more, and would require such companies to extend to employees with domestic partners benefits equal to those afforded to employees with spouses, such as health insurance, bereavement leave, and family medical leave. The bill also provides an accommodation for organizations with religious principles that conflict with this requirement; they can instead certify "that they offer equal benefits to a member of each employee's household." In such instances, the employee claiming entitlement need not disclose the specific nature of the relationship with his or her partner beyond verifying that the statutory conditions have been met. That is, the employee must merely confirm that "the household member is 18 years of age or older, lives permanently with the employee, is unmarried, is not a dependent of any other person, and is not the tenant of landlord of the employee."

In passing the bill, the predominantly Democratic City Council followed the lead of several other large cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle have each enacted comparable measures. Council Member Christine Quinn stated in support of the bill that "[t]he Equal Benefits Bill will ensure that all New Yorkers are getting equal benefits for equal work." Proponents also claim that the legislation will actually save the city money because it would attract more productive employees, resulting in superior and less costly goods and services. Although the bill was endorsed by numerous New York City businesses and city contractors, including Merrill Lynch and Project Renewal, Republican Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has questioned whether the bill would really save the City money, and has pledged to veto it. As described by mayoral spokesman Jordan Barowitz, the Mayor's position is that "[e]ach restriction that the City Council places on procurement increases the costs of goods and services[.]"

Because the bill passed by a 43 to 5 margin — enough to override a mayoral veto — it would be wise for all companies that hold city contracts worth at least $100,000 to begin planning for domestic partner benefit coverage. Although Mayor Bloomberg may mount a court challenge to the bill, comparable legislation passed in San Francisco has survived several legal challenges essentially intact.