New York court strikes down equal benefit law

Posted on 17 Feb 2006 at 12:24pm
By Mark Johnson – Associated Press

Law passed by New York City council over mayor’s veto required contractors to provide partner benefits

ALBANY, New York The state’s highest court, dealing a victory to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on Tuesday ruled an anti-discrimination law passed by the City Council over the mayor’s objections was invalid.

The Equal Benefits Law, enacted by the council over the mayor’s veto in June 2004, had required the city to do business only with contractors and property owners that agree to provide the same benefits for the domestic partners of employees as they do for the spouses of employees.

Bloomberg had initially refused to enforce the law but was ordered to do so after the Council sued in Supreme Court. The council argued that the mayor’s refusal to carry out the law had upset the separation of powers.

An appeals court overturned that ruling, saying the city statute conflicted with competitive bidding requirements in state law and was invalid.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the first openly gay person elected as speaker of the City Council, vowed to continue pushing for benefits for domestic partners.

“Although we are disappointed with the court’s ruling, we are here today most importantly to make it clear that our efforts to make sure that the equal benefits bill becomes the equal benefits law of the city of New York those efforts are not over,” she said.

In a 4-3 decision, the Court of Appeals upheld the mid-level appeals court, saying state and federal laws took precedence over the city law. Writing for the majority, Judge Robert Smith dismissed the City Council’s arguments over the separation of powers. While noting Bloomberg’s duty to carry out enacted city laws, Smith noted the mayor also had the duty to follow existing state and federal statutes.

The City of New York currently provides the same benefits to the domestic partners of its employees as it does to employees’ spouses. The mayor’s office said Bloomberg “has also taken significant steps to provide equal access to benefits for same and opposite-sex domestic partners and spouses of private sector employees.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of February 17, 2006.

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