City Council Approves Ordinance Requiring Contractors To Provide Benefits To Domestic Partners

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MTT News Desk's picture
Matt Geiger

Most contractors who want to do business with the City of Middleton will have to provide health insurance to the same-sex domestic partners of their employees, following a recent vote by the common council.

The city’s own health insurance plan already covered domestic partners.  According to assistant city administrator John Lehman, the city wanted to ensure that “contractors doing business with the city also offer the same coverage to their employees since they are acting on [Middleton’s] behalf.”

The ordinance indicates the requirements “are for the protection and welfare of the public in the performance of all public contracts.”

Ald. JoAnna Richard (Dist. 3) said she was pleased with the change.

“I [voted for the ordinance] because if our taxpayer dollars are going to contractors, we should invest those dollars in companies who offer fair and equal access to family coverage to all … employees, including those in a domestic partnership,” Richard said. “Middleton is a city that embraces diversity because it’s the right thing to do, plus it makes us a stronger, more economically vibrant community.”

Lehman said the cost of covering domestic partners is already built into the city’s premiums. There is no surcharge to city employees for domestic partner coverage.

Now private companies who want to take on city projects exceeding $25,000 will be required to offer similar coverage.

The measure, which passed with one dissenting vote, states its purpose as to  “ensure that contractors doing business with the City of Middleton under certain public works contracts, service contracts, and contracts for financial assistance provide benefits for their employees in domestic partnerships that are equal to the benefits provided for similarly-situated employees who are married.”

“The common council finds that city funds should support employers that offer equal compensation, including benefits, to all employees, including employees in a domestic partnership,” the ordinance continues. “The council finds that the equal benefit requirements of this ordinance ensure that city funds are used responsibly and with contractors who reflect values that the city shares while also meeting requirements that public construction contracts be awarded to the lowest responsible bidder.”

Essentially, if a benefit would be available to the spouse of a married employee or to the employee based on his or her status as a spouse, the benefit must also be made equally available to a domestic partner of that employee, or to the employee based on his or her status as a domestic partner.

If the contractor is unable to provide coverage, it must provide the employee with its cash equivalent.

From now on, all contracts to which the ordinance applies will include language specifically laying out Middleton’s “Equal Benefits Requirement.”

Contractors may be required to provide the city with proof that they are compliant with the new rule. Those that violate the ordinance  are subject to a forfeiture of not less than $100 and not more than $1,000, plus costs.

If a contractor fails to live up to its side of the contract, the city administrator will inform the business and arrange a discussion “to encourage the contractor to change its practices to achieve compliance.”

If the contractor or subcontractor fails to comply,  the city may terminate the contract, declare the contractor ineligible for further city contracts, and recover 0.5 percent of the contract award price for each week the party fails or refuses to comply, up to a total of five percent of the contract price, or $5,000, whichever is less.

The lone vote against the ordinance came from ald. Mark Sullivan (Dist. 8).

While issues surrounding gay marriage and domestic partnerships are mired deeply within the culture wars, Sullivan said his opposition had everything to do with a lack of information, and nothing to do with opposition to the ordinance’s intent.

“Just let me be clear,” said Sullivan. “I think this is good social policy. I think as a society we should do this.”

But Sullivan, a certified public accountant and president of the Middleton Finance Committee, said he had insufficient information about how the policy would impact the various contractors that take on municipal projects.

“There was just not enough testimony,” said Sullivan. “There were unanswered questions, at the time, about whether this would create a competitive disadvantage for the city.”

“But once again, from a policy perspective I don’t have any problem with this,” he added. “I just wanted more facts.”

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