For News Service of Florida
A senator who last month opposed a bill that would create domestic partnerships for unmarried couples will support a new, narrower version when it comes up Tuesday in the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee.
Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said Monday she was satisfied with the reworked bill (SB 196) by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood.
The measure would create a statewide domestic partnership registry and allow registered couples to visit their partners in hospitals, nursing homes, correctional facilities and mental health facilities. They would have the right to be notified in the case of an emergency involving their partners and to be health care proxies for them. In cases in which no will exists, a surviving partner could oversee the remains of a deceased one.
Opponents of gay marriage have called the bill an attempt to obtain spousal rights for same-sex couples despite Florida's having adopted a 2008 constitutional amendment banning same gay marriage.
Sobel pulled a broader version of the bill from consideration at the committee's last meeting when it became apparent it wouldn't pass. She then narrowed its scope, hoping to pick up votes.
A majority on the ten-member committee will still be difficult to attain, but Detert's vote, added to those of the four Democratic members, would give it a shot.
"I don't think the opposition will get more votes," said Nadine Smith, executive director of the advocacy group Equality Florida. "The fact that (Detert) is satisfied bodes well."
Detert said last month she supports gay couples but considered the earlier bill too broad – a "walking lawsuit."
On Monday, Sobel said the reworked bill will contain only provisions in existing local laws around the state. Several local governments – including Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Orange counties, and cities, including Tampa and Orlando, already have such domestic partnership registries.
But despite that access, Smith called it an unfair "patchwork."
"If you live on the border between a municipality that has these protections and one that doesn't, in that urgent moment when seconds matter, do you have to consult a GPS to determine which hospital you're going to race to?" she asked. "Which will respect you as a family and which will treat you as a legal stranger?"
When the bill is heard Tuesday, among those speaking for it will be Janice Langbehn, a woman who says she was denied access to her partner of 18 years, Lisa Pond, as Pond slipped into a coma and died at Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Even if the bill clears the Senate Children and Families Committee, it faces four more stops in the Senate. The House version (HB 259) by Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, needs approval from four committees and is yet to be put on the agenda of any of them.
The issue was never heard in a Florida legislative committee before last month.