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(SS) Two Broward cities this week took steps to help gay and lesbian couples and others in domestic partnerships.

Hallandale Beach commissioners approved an annual $500 tax reimbursement for city employees who receive domestic partner health coverage, mitigating federal taxes assessed on that coverage that don't apply to married couples.

Oakland Park commissioners are requiring that companies with more than 25 employees seeking city contracts worth more than $100,000 offer their employees in domestic partnerships the same benefits they offer married couples.

"Although they are different kinds of policies, they illustrate the same trend," said Stratton Pollitzer of Equality Florida. "[The two commissions] want to do everything within their power to make sure that gay families and domestic partners are treated equally."

Hallandale Beach is believed to be the first in the state to enact a policy that seeks to offset the taxes assessed on the cost of providing domestic partnership health benefits, which the federal government treats as income.

"Hallandale is one of the first cities in the country to pass [a reimbursement policy]. It may be the only city," Pollitzer said. "It's definitely cutting edge."

The city estimates employees with domestic partner health coverage pay an average of $940 more in taxes each year as a result of the coverage. The city currently has five employees receiving such coverage, which will bring the cost of the reimbursement program to $2,500 annually.

"The more local support we have for tax equity and fairness for all our employees, the easier it will be to change federal law," said Hallandale Beach Commissioner Alex Lewy, who suggested the reimbursement after learning about the issue at a Washington conference earlier this year for elected officials. "I really want this to go beyond Hallandale Beach."

In Oakland Park, commissioners made the city the fourth Florida community to pass an equal benefits ordinance, following the lead of Broward County, Miami Beach and Key West.

"This is about parity in benefits," said Oakland Park Commissioner Shari McCartney, who requested the legislation.

McCartney is confident businesses won't be unduly burdened by the new rules. Many already provide equal benefits, she said.

The city also provides exceptions, such as when only one bidder responds, if the contract is needed for an emergency or if the bid is from a religious organization. If a company doesn't provide benefits to married couples, then it wouldn't have to provide them to domestic partners, either.

"Oakland Park doesn't discriminate and we don't want these businesses to discriminate either," Vice Mayor John Adornato said.