County executive Rich Fitzgerald announced today he will issue an executive order to implement same-sex benefits for county employees, as recommended nearly two years ago by the county's Human Relation Commission.
Fitzgerald, who took office on Tuesday, attended the commission's monthly meeting this morning and announced that he would follow up on a campaign promise.
"It's something I as council president advocated for but didn't have the authority. Now I do," he said. Fitzgerald said the order would be issued "in the next few weeks" and by the time of the commission's next meeting Feb. 2.
"We will stay consistent with the unions' collective bargaining agreement but it will be a countywide policy," he said.
"It's a very refreshing start to the new year with that kind of attitude from the county executive," said HRC chair Stephan Broadus. "It makes us feel that the work here we do is important."
"It's gratifying to have the full support of the county executive in our work. I feel like he's seriously committed to making sure the intent of the Human Relations ordinance is fulfilled," said Barbara Daly Danko, a commissioner and county councilor.
The Human Relations ordinance bans discrimination in employment, housing and public housing on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. The commission is charged to investigate allegations of discrimination and Onorato asked them to study implementing domestic partner benefits.
In addition to the executive order, Fitzgerald promised that either he or a member of his staff would attend the commission's monthly meetings.
Danko also announced today that for the first time, the county budget included $25,000 for the previously-unfunded commission to cover contracting investigations with the city, printing and distributing materials and conducting public hearings and mediation, among other things.
Now that the commission's flagship issue of passing benefits appears in reach, Broadus said he hopes to focus on getting the word out that the body exists.
"We handled 11 cases last year — most were sexual orientation. We know there is a lot of discrimination out there," he said. "Once we get the word out, we'll begin to see more cases in 2012."