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Council OKs Domestic Partnership Registry

By Staff | Nov 4, 2014

Cape Coral passed the Domestic Partner-ship Registry ordinance at Monday night’s final public hearing, but it was far from unanimous.

Three council members and several citizens who spoke during the hearing voiced opposition for the main reason that the local level is not as appropriate as the county or state level. However, those in support called it the right thing to do toward helping residents with valuable protections.

“We live in a land of laws and governed by the rule of law,” said Councilmember Jim Burch. “This is not a local government issue. Local government cannot fix Social Security issues among partners. This is absolutely a state issue for me, but I understand your pain. We can’t have a patchwork of laws at the local level because that creates anarchy, not a democracy.”

Councilmember Derrick Donnell added, “I wish this was not here, but it is. I wish we did not have to deal with this because I see it as a social issue. I’m more concerned about the cost to the city and its impact on the City Clerk’s office. But the reality of it is it’s about protections.”

When it came time to vote on the ordinance after a lengthy discussion, Burch, Lenny Nesta and Rana Erbrick cast the dissenting votes toward the 5-3 approval.

“This ordinance will affect me,” said Councilmember Rick Williams, who lives in a domestic partnership. “My biggest fear is I would not be able to get to her. In some situations we just need to be together. We have a large population in Cape Coral of people in their 70s who might not want to get married again. This will help them. People say the state should do it, but they’re not doing it. Some say the county should do it, but they’re not doing it.”

Former Councilmember Kevin McGrail addressed the council as a citizen: “You can’t set social policy at the local level. Please, don’t take the bait on this. Focus on important issues like roads, bridges, police, fire and parks, not social issues. You will be open to lawsuits. When I was on council we had issues with prayer before our meetings and a group out of Minnesota offered to defend us which would have made us a pawn in the process. This should be done at the state level, not local.”

Nesta said he has concerns about the ordinance and the burden it might put on the clerk’s office.

“I think people have a right to live the way they want to,” he said. “This ordinance has no teeth to it. This is a social issue that should be handled in Tallahassee.”

Erbrick’s opposition to the registry centers on the local issue as well: “I’m not for this, but I hear you and I understand where you are coming from. Please, keep up the fight, but you’ve got to take it to the right people.”

Registry enrollees gain rights such as hospital visitation, healthcare decisions with their partner, end of life financial and funeral decisions. These rights are only observed within the Cape Coral city limits and other cities and counties with a registry. So far, neither Fort Myers nor Lee County has enacted registry legislation. The only other Southwest Florida community with a partnership registry is Punta Gorda, which passed its ordinance in April.

The registry is gender neutral, so it is available to same sex couples as well as opposite sex couples. Couples registering will pay a $50 fee to the city.

Other council action

Other decisions by council Monday night included approval of a request for a destination sign in city right-of-way on Southwest 2nd Street near Pine Island Road directing motorists to the Wicked Dolphin Distillery.

Owner Joann Elardo informed council that 10,000 visitors toured the distillery last year and they anticipate 12,000 to 14,000 in 2015. Bus tours and groups have visited from near and far, such as Miami, Boca Raton, Sarasota, Naples, Tampa, The Villages and Boynton Beach. Wicked Dolphin is one of only two distilleries in the state and the directional sign will help those visitors find it.

Elardo also said she is working to change state law allowing directional traffic signage in state rights-of-way for wineries by adding distilleries to the Legislation’s language.

“Then perhaps we can get a sign on I-75 directing people to Cape Coral,” she said.

Also, City Manager John Szerlag accepted a certificate of achievement for excellence awarded by the Government Finance Officers Association to Cape Coral for the 28th straight year.