The noise coming from City Hall tonight won't be wedding bells.
But city commissioners at their weekly meeting may make noise heard across the state as they consider becoming the first Kansas community to legally recognize gay partnerships.
City Hall reporter Chad Lawhorn will live-blog the discussion. The meeting starts at 6:35 p.m., and the domestic partnership discussion should start shortly after.
6:15 p.m. Hi. I'm Journal-World City Hall Reporter Chad Lawhorn. City commissioners are scheduled to start their meeting at 6:35 p.m. The discussion on a domestic partnership registry is slated as the second item on the regular agenda. Before we get started, I want to apologize for any misspellings or typos that occur as part of this blog. I will be describing the events of the meeting in real time, so this report does not have the benefit of being edited prior to being posted on the Web. We will attempt to correct any typos or misspellings after the meeting ends. Also, a brief explantion of what to expect is in order. We're calling this a blog, but really it is more of a description of what is happening at the meeting. I won't be offering my own comments or opinions as you might expect a blogger to do. You, of course, are welcome to do so. Check back soon. I expect the discussion to start shortly.
6:45 p.m. The meeting has started but commissioners are talking about other issues at the moment. As a reminder, there are only four commissioners tonight. Commissioner Sue Hack is absent from the meeting. There is a large crowd of people in the audience. The commission meeting room is full, and more than a dozen people are in the commission lobby.
7:10 p.m. City commissioners are set to begin their discussion on the registry. Toni Wheeler, interim director of legal services explains the research she has done on the subject. Wheeler said a new ordinance and resolution would change the defintion of family to include domestic partners. She said she looked at what other cities have done. There are no other cities in Kansas that has created a registry, but several other cities in Midwest have created one. She said issues the city commission needs to provide direction on are: what are the requirements people must meet to register; should it be open to both same sex and opposite sex couples; details on procedures for removal of names from the registry; what fees should be charged for the program. Wheeler said that there have been legal challenges in other states. Some have survived the legal challenge and some have not. She said it is difficult to know how Kansas courts may rule. "If it is drafted carefully, I believe it could withstand a challenge."
7:17 p.m. Mayor Mike Amyx asks if the city shoud seek an opinion from the Attorney General's office on whether the city has the legal authority to do this. Wheeler said that would be a good idea.
7:19 p.m. Commissioner Boog Highberger asks if this could be interpreted to be granting any benefits to domestic partners. Wheeler said there has been a case arguing that it does require benefits be offered to domestic partners. That argument was struck down in court though, Wheeler said. Highberger also asked whether Wheeler thought this would conflict with the Kansas Constitutional Ammendment prohibiting gay marriage. Wheeler said an argument could be made that it does, but thinks if the registry ordinance were carefully crafted, it could withstand legal challenge.
7:22 Commissioner David Schauner said he thought the largest benefit would be that domestic partners could use this registry to get health insurance benefits. But he said he thought most of those decisions about whether coverage would be offered to domestic partners might be in the hands of the insurance company. "I don't want to hold out any false hope here."
7:25 Commissioner Mike Rundle said he thought the registry would be useful to employers who offer benefits to domestic partners but often times require documentation that a partnership exists. Also reminds people that this is for non-gay couples as well. Mayor Mike Amyx tells crowd that he just wants to hear questions and comments tonight. Does not expect the City Commission to make a decision tonight.
7:27 Maggie Childs, chair of the local chapter of the Kansas Equality Coalition. Childs said her group supports the registry concept. Wants it to be open for both gay and hetrosexual couples. "It is a good idea for a lot of people and we want it to be as open as possible." She said they are not asking for any benefits as part of this, at the moment. Thinks it would be a good to have documentation to show employers. "It is tough to ask for sick leave to take care of your partner for example, if you don't really have anything that shows you do have a patner," Childs said. Said this would also open the door to go to the hospital administration, for example, and ask the hospital to honor domestic partners as people who can visit people who are critically ill. "These type of protections are needed when bad things happen that you don't plan on. And there are other people for whom this would be a very meaningful event from a symbolic standpoint to go and register and have their partnership recognized."
7:35 Forrest Swall. Said there is broad support for this program in Lawrence. Said it woud show Lawrence's diversity and tolerance.
7:35 Kim Kreicker. Said she and her partners would use this registry. She said they would appreciate any benefits that would follow. As an example, she said she and her partner would like to be on each other's health insurance so one of them could perhaps quit work or work part-time so that they could help take care of their elderly parents.
7:37 Bill Simms. He said that he thinks the community needs this. Says some domestic partners feel uncomfortable in Lawrence today.
7:38 Bill N. Works as an attorney for AT&T. He is representing himself tonight, not the company. The company offers benefits to domestic partners but the company does require some documentation from a government or official jurisdiction. He said he would use the registry as a gay man. Said that he does not think the city would be vulnerable to losing a legal challenge.
7:40 Lori Messinger. Says that more than half of the Fortune 500 companies offer benefits to domestic partners. Many of them have retail locations in Lawrence. She has been in a domestic partnership for mor than 15 years. "It would be really nice to affirm our relationship."
7:45 p.m. Public comment ends. Amyx said he welcomes further written comment. Schauner asks if KU offers domestic partnership benefits. The answer is no. Comm. Highberger thanks Rundle for bringing the issue forward. "I'm generally supportive of the idea. I think it is an idea that doesn't hurt anyone." Said he was really proud of how Lawrence rejected the Kansas Constitutional Ammendment on gay marriage. Rundle said what he thinks the city should move forward is simply the registry. "We should not require employers to provide benefits." Says this is "simply an extension of that sense of welcome and anti-discrimination" that was created when the city made it illegal to discriminate on sexual orientation basis. Commissioner David Schauner said he thought this was a "logical follow-up" to that non-discrimination ordinance. Says he wants staff to use a model used in other communites. I very much would look forward to seeing something. Amyx said he wants an attorney general's opinion before he commits to anything. "I think we need to find out how broad of authority we have."
7:50 p.m. David Corliss, city manager. Said the staff can ask for an A.G. opinion. Said he also will ask the A.G.'s office for a timeline since the new A.G. is just taking office. Corliss said he will report the timeline he is told by the A.G. office. Motion made to contact attorney general's office to seek an attorney general's opinion. Motion also allows staff to create a draft ordinance to show to the A.G. office. Motion is approved 4-0.