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Wednesday, October 1, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 49.0° F  Overcast
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Madison wants contractors to offer domestic partner benefits
City joins the crowd
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Verveer: 'It's the right thing to do.'
Verveer: 'It's the right thing to do.'

It's an ordinance Ald. Mike Verveer wanted passed a long time ago - one that requires contractors doing business with the city to provide partner benefits to gay and lesbian employees.

"The reason why I or others have not promoted a similar ordinance years ago is because the city would have been hypocrites in the area of domestic-partner benefits," Verveer says. "Until this year, domestic partners of city employees did not have full domestic partner benefits."

The city of Madison belongs to a state insurance pool, which until January did not offer benefits to domestic partners - both same-sex and unmarried heterosexual. The city worked around this by reimbursing workers for benefits they bought on their own. But it no longer must do so, since the state changed its laws to let domestic partners share benefits, the same as married couples.

Now Verveer wants the city to insist that the companies it contracts with do the same.

"It's the right thing to do," he says. "In this case, I can't claim Madison is breaking new ground because there are many communities across the nation that have similar laws on the books, including Dane County."

Dane County's law went into effect in December 2008. Some building contractors originally opposed the idea. But Joshua Wescott, a spokesman for County Executive Kathleen Falk, says there haven't been any problems.

"Since it took effect, the county continues to see very competitive bidding for contracts," he says. "In fact, over the past year there have actually been higher numbers of prospective contractors bidding on county projects."

Wescott says the head of county purchasing "isn't aware of any major concerns that have come about as a result of the ordinance passing. Companies that do business with Dane County are complying with the ordinance."

Verveer hopes there won't be any controversy when he introduces the ordinance, probably still this month.

"I see no reason why Madison should not join the ranks of dozens of communities across the country," he says. "I think a fair number of firms we do business with already offer these benefits. It's become the norm in this day and age."

City awaits beetle invasion

Madison is preparing for battle against the emerald ash borer, a beetle that has laid waste to millions of ash trees. And city officials are asking for residents' help.

A native of eastern Asia, the pest is decimating ash trees in other parts of the country. If it does the same here, Madison could lose a third of its city-planted tree stock - some 19,000 trees, says city forester Marla Eddy.

The beetle made its first appearance in Wisconsin in August 2008 and has now been found in Vernon, Brown, Milwaukee and Crawford counties, as well as Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan.

City officials held a news conference last week to kick off an awareness campaign, hoping to enlist residents and neighborhood groups in the cause.

"This is a very important issue for our citizens to be aware of," Mayor Dave Cieslewicz told reporters at James Madison Park. "Emerald ash borer is not in Madison yet, but it's only a matter of time before it arrives here. We have a plan to deal with it."

Eddy says that plan was developed in 2008 and is currently being updated. But if a beetle should be found here, the city would immediately survey the area, in conjunction with the state Department of Natural Resources, to see how far it's spread.

The city could then decide to apply pesticides or cut trees down, but cutting would only be done when the beetle is dormant to prevent further spreading, Eddy says. She adds, "There is no one textbook way of dealing with this because there can be so many different circumstances."

For now, the city wants to educate residents about what ash trees and the beetles look like, so they'll be aware of what is in their yards and be able to identify threats. The city is giving information packets to neighborhood groups, and information is also available at the Parks Division's website.

Taste of Madison: No more dogs

Rita Kelliher, president of Madison Festivals, didn't want it to come to this: "It kills me because I own a dog, and I love them to pieces."

But Madison Festivals wants to ban dogs from the annual Taste of Madison on Capitol Square, scheduled this year for Sept. 4 and 5. The festival put up signs last year saying dogs weren't allowed, but they didn't seem to deter dog owners. This year it's asking the Madison Common Council to ban dogs via ordinance, which will allow citations to be issued to violators.

Kelliher says there are concerns about sanitation and safety, although there haven't been major incidents in the past. Besides, she thinks the festival is not a good place for canine companions: "There's really no dog that does well around 50,000 people."

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