The fate of Salt Lake City's new domestic partner registry was uncertain for much of the legislative session.
By late Wednesday the registry appeared safe, though it likely will require a name change.
The minor changes required by SB299, which received final approval Wednesday, are small compared with an earlier bill that would have stymied the registry. That bill was held by the Senate amid political woes of its sponsor, Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan. And in the late hours of the session, an attempt in the House to derail the registry failed.
In a 61-9 vote, the House approved SB299, which is aimed at setting guidelines for cities that opt to provide benefits to unmarried couples, without violating Amendment 3, Utah's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and substantially similar civil unions.
SB299 now moves to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. for final approval, which spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley said is likely. If signed into law, the bill would allow local registries based on financial dependence or interdependence, and allow local governments to offer employee benefits using the same standards. However, it would prevent cities from setting up domestic partnerships or civil unions.
"The purpose of (SB299) is to reaffirm marriage under Amendment 3 and to prevent municipal registries from creating a marriage look-alike," said House sponsor Rep. Kevin Garn, R-Layton.
As approved, and according to intent language, the bill would allow Salt Lake City to keep its registry, which gives employers who choose to offer domestic partner benefits an easy way to recognize those relationships. It also provides for hospital visitation. The city also provides benefits to adult designees of unmarried city employees.
"I'm very pleased that the Legislature has accepted Salt Lake City's policy and basically authorized us to have a registry," said Mayor Ralph Becker, who proposed the registry during his first week in office. "I realize we're going to need to go back and change the name of the registry. We'll do that and move forward with what I think will be an important and beneficial effort for our community."
Becker called the Legislature's prohibition of the term "domestic partnerships" odd, because it's commonly used and recognized by states and cities throughout the nation, as well in the insurance industry.
"I am much more focused on the substance of what we're doing here," Becker said. "I expect we'll be able to work within the context of a different name."
The House vote came after an attempt narrowly failed in a 34-36 vote to modify the bill to prohibit local registries and put stricter limits on how cities and counties can offer benefits to adult designees of employees.
Rep. Michael Noel, R-Kanab, said the bill needed changing because extending benefits beyond simple health insurance is "problematic for me and may have unintended consequences."
Salt Lake City Council Chairwoman Jill Remington Love said city officials were relieved that SB299 passed without Noel's amendment. "It would have killed the registry and hurt our adult-designee benefits ordinance," she said.
Love said the city will have to make minor changes to the registry, but nothing substantive.
"We're appreciative that Sen. Bell and others were willing to work for hours with us, crafting language that would allow our registry to stand," she said. "We appreciate that they recognize this is something important to Salt Lake City residents."
Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake, said Noel's version of the bill would go so far as to disqualify some Salt Lake City employees from insurance they already have by requiring financial dependence.
That means, Biskupski said, that some designees of city employees would "have to choose to give up their health insurance or give up their job. ... It gets in the way of what the city is trying to do, which is insure as many people as they can."If the House had approved the changes, it could have led to a late-night showdown between the House and Senate. Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, had told reporters Wednesday that he supported SB299, as Bell presented it.