Bill extending benefits for domestic partners moves in Senate |

Bill extending benefits for domestic partners moves in Senate

SACRAMENTO (AP) – Sharon Smith says she not only lost her ”life partner and best friend” in a fatal dog mauling last winter, but she now has to battle legal roadblocks.

Because Smith and Diane Whipple were lesbian partners, Smith said she is having trouble suing the owners and handlers of the dogs.

”This disrespects Diane’s life and her memory,” Smith said Tuesday as she testified in favor of a bill to expand benefits available to gays and seniors who are registered with the state as domestic partners.

The Assembly-passed bill was approved by a 4-2 vote of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It advances to the Appropriations Committee.

Whipple was killed last January by two dogs in her apartment hallway. Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel, who were caring for the dogs, have been charged in her death.

Smith and Whipple’s mother, Penny Whipple-Kelly of Fairfield County, Conn., have filed wrongful death suits against the couple.

Kate Kendell, a lawyer with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, is representing Smith and arguing that she is entitled to pursue such a claim as would a surviving spouse or relative.

However, current California law allows only spouses and other relatives to bring such lawsuits.

The bill by Assemblywoman Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, would allow domestic partners to seek economic and emotional damages in such wrongful-death lawsuits.

Since January 2000, 15,000 people have registered with the secretary of state as domestic partners. The 1999 law creating that registry allows only limited benefits – the right to visit a partner in a hospital and some health benefits for state workers.

The new bill would also require health insurers to offer coverage for domestic partners, although employers would not have to provide it. The bill would also give partners medical decision-making authority in hospitals, inheritance without a will and unemployment benefits when a partner transfers a job.

Supporters include gay rights and senior groups, the California Nurses Association, labor unions, the California Teachers Association and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Opposing the bill are religious groups, including the Committee on Moral Concerns and the Capitol Resource Center.

On the Net: Read the bill, AB25, at

Read about the registry at

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