Lawsuit could halt Springfield decision regarding civil union benefits

Thu. January 12, 2012 9:36 AM by News Staff

Chicago, IL - A new lawsuit could jeopardize a recent decision by the Springfield City Council to provide health benefits for city employees in a civil union.

The Springfield Joint Labor/Management Health Care Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to grant health benefits to couples in a civil union, which reversed their decision in September.

Bruce Rushton, a reporter for the weekly alternative Illinois Times, filed a lawsuit just hours after the closed door session on Tuesday charging the Committee violated the Open Meetings Act and that the decision of the committee be declared void, according to a statement from The Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA).

TCRA, which is working with members of the Springfield City Council to determine the best course of action, confirms that the committee meeting could be a violation of the Open Meetings Act.

"This definitely complicates matters, but the issues addressed in this lawsuit, if found valid, will only ensure the citizens of Springfield will be afforded a government aligned with the ideals of civil liberties for all," said TCRA executive director Anthony Martinez.

According to TCRA, issues of transparency of the committee were raised last week by a number of Springfield City Council members including Alderwoman Gail Simpson, who voiced concern that the autonomy and private nature of the committee could potentially put the city at risk for legal action.

"Although it's difficult to see this issue drag on, we hope doing so will remedy what has clearly been a wrong approach, and has deprived the citizens of Springfield the transparency they deserve," said Lowell Jaffe, political and policy director for TCRA.

Prior to the lawsuit, coverage of civil union partners was set to begin at the start of the new fiscal year, which is March 1, 2012.

"This will not deter nor derail our efforts to ensure that couples in a civil union are recognized as spouses by the City of Springfield, and granted the benefits as required by State law,"said Martinez.