HomeLocal governmentCity Commission votes unanimously to move forward on development of City policy to pay travel and medical expenses for employees to get abortions
City Commission votes unanimously to move forward on development of City policy to pay travel and medical expenses for employees to get abortions
July 25, 2022
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gainesville City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos added an agenda item at the last minute to the commission’s July 21 meeting, during the adoption of the agenda; the new agenda item included a recommendation that the commission adopt a resolution similar to one that is being considered by the City of Austin, Texas, to “protect reproductive rights” in Gainesville and “direct staff to create a policy to allow City employees to have travel and medical expenses covered for abortions that are [not] allowed locally.”
Austin’s resolution prohibits City from spending money to report or track abortions, instructs police to make enforcement of the state law their lowest priority
The model resolution from Austin notably uses the term “pregnant people” and cites “bodily autonomy” as a “right.” Hayes-Santos was less concerned about bodily autonomy when he made the motion to adopt the City of Gainesville’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all City employees, which was later extended and then repealed on September 23 after a judge granted employees a temporary injunction. On August 19, 2021, Hayes-Santos told employees who were asking the City to repeal their mandate, “I hear your concerns, but I have a duty… to create a safe workplace.”
Austin’s resolution refers to Roe v. Wade in several places but does not reference Dobbs v. Jackson except to say that it overturned Roe v. Wade. The resolution in Austin was prompted by a Texas law that “criminalizes abortion at the felony level.” In Florida, however, the law passed this year permits abortions up to 15 weeks into a pregnancy, a change from the previous 24-week limit; Hayes-Santos seemed to be concerned that Florida will adopt a law in the future that restricts all abortions.
Austin’s resolution prohibits use of City funds for any reporting of an abortion, miscarriage, or “other reproductive healthcare act,” providing information to any other governmental agency about those things, or collecting information about whether an abortion has occurred. It also directs law enforcement agencies to make enforcement of the state law their lowest priority.
City Attorney expresses concerns about the proposed policy
Hayes-Santos said he believes the City needs to “take proactive action,” including considering Austin’s resolution, “and we would ask staff to come back with… a policy… for the City to cover travel and medical expenses for employees who may have been able to have an abortion, previously, before the laws were changed, but are not able to now.” He made a motion to ask staff to bring back a resolution similar to Austin’s and also bring back a policy, for the commission to review, to allow City employees to have travel and medical expenses covered for abortions “that are not allowed locally.”
Interim City Attorney Daniel Nee said his concern was that “your budget process generally isn’t so granular, as you’re going to be dictating spending within a department, as this would imply. The direction might undermine the charter authority of your City Manager, and the Police Chief under her, if you’re dictating priorities in law enforcement, in terms of enforcing state laws that don’t exist yet… And finally, I don’t know that you could have a resolution that’s going to be binding upon the budgetary decisions of future commissions. That all sounds like an advocacy type resolution [as opposed to a binding resolution], which I think is appropriate. And the last matter: the employee benefit for child-related expenses would certainly need to be negotiated, at the very least.” He also pointed out that the proposal had not gone through the City Commission’s policy process but was “off the hip.”
Hayes-Santos said he believed it should be a binding resolution and that future City Commissions could change it: “I think an advocacy resolution would mean nothing, and I think we should take real action for the City employees.” He said he wanted staff to come back with “what that would look like as a policy” and start negotiations with the unions.
Mayor Lauren Poe reiterated that Nee should investigate the questions about where the line is between the charter officers’ responsibilities and the City Commission’s responsibilities: “I think that’s important to answer, especially when this gets challenged, because it will.”
Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut asked staff to look at other cities for additional policies or legislation that Gainesville could use as models.
Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker asked why Hayes-Santos hadn’t brought the idea to General Policy Committee (GPC) first. Hayes-Santos responded that there was a need to move quickly: “I thought there was a more immediate need for employees and for kind of what’s happening in the state, and GPC can take months and months and months for something to happen.”
Desmon-Walker said Nee had brought up “valid points that I had not considered clearly,” including the distinction between binding and non-binding resolutions and the impacts on future budgets. She wanted to give the City Manager the “opportunity to work through this very important matter that we want to codify and make policy.” She added that she was “grateful to have this put forward.”
No members of the public spoke on the issue.
Poe moved ahead to a vote, saying to the charter officers, “As soon as you feel like it’s ready for a discussion by the Commission, we’ll get it back on an agenda, whether that be GPC or a regular City Commission meeting.”
The motion passed unanimously, with Commissioner Reina Saco absent.
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