After open meetings snag, Springfield City Council approves civil union benefits

Ald. Cory Jobe (center). Photo: Tony Merevick.

Ald. Cory Jobe (center). Photo: Tony Merevick.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — After a state Open Meetings Act violation last year invalidated its initial approval of an ordinance that would extend health care benefits to dependents of city employees in civil unions, the Springfield City Council unanimously approved the measure again Tuesday, 10-0.

The ordinance, which will go in effect within the next seven to 10 days, will allow city employees in civil unions to extend their insurance benefits to their partners and dependents, according to Ald. Cory Jobe, Ward 6.

Prior to the vote, Springfield was the only city in the state that withheld partner benefits for couples in civil unions after the city’s Joint Labor/Management Insurance Committee voted to deny them in September 2011, said Anthony Martinez, executive director at The Civil Rights Agenda, who applauded the council’s move to again approve the ordinance.

“We are very pleased with this outcome and applaud the city council for taking this step,” Martinez said. “We have been working with the city council for over a year and a half to get this done since they voted to deny the benefits in September of 2011.”

In addition to efforts by TCRA, the ordinance was sponsored by Ald. Jobe, Springfield Mayor Mike Houston, Ald. Doris Turner and Ald. Sam Cahnman.

“This is about equality and fairness,” Ald. Jobe told Chicago Phoenix. “It signals to employees and residents that we treat everyone fairly.”

In February of last year, a Sangamon County judge ruled in favor of a local journalist who alleged that the city’s Joint Labor/Management Insurance Committee violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act, when they voted Jan. 10 to approve the benefits measure. The judge’s ruling and pressure from TCRA led to the council’s decision to overturn its initial approval, and a new vote was delayed for nearly a year.

At least three city employees have inquired about spousal benefits since they came into question early last year, and Jobe said he expects even more to come forward now that they will be offered under the law.

Despite the victory for Springfield employees, Martinez and longtime LGBT rights activist Rick Garcia said the entire process could have been avoided if same-sex marriage was legal in Illinois.

“If we had marriage in Illinois, we would not have to go through this — city by city, county by county,” Garcia said.