GLAA endorses Betty Ann Kane for Public Service Commission
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GLAA endorses Betty Ann Kane for Public Service Commission

Fighting for Equal Rights Since 1971
P. O. Box 75265
Washington, D.C. 20013
(202) 667-5139


Before the Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs

FEBRUARY 21, 2007

Councilmember Cheh, Members of the Committee, and Fellow Residents:

Good morning. My name is Craig Howell. I am a native Washingtonian currently living in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. I am happy to be here today representing the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington (GLAA), the oldest continuously active gay and lesbian civil rights organization in the country. We will be celebrating the 36th anniversary of our founding in April 1971 with our annual Fundraising Anniversary Reception on Thursday evening April 19 at the Washington Plaza Hotel on Thomas Circle. You will be receiving your invitations shortly.

GLAA is delighted to endorse Mayor Fenty’s nomination of Betty Ann Kane to the D.C. Public Service Commission, as expressed in PR 17-55. We have known Betty Ann for many years, going back to her service on the School Board and on the D.C. Council as an At-Large Member, where she built herself an enviable record as a dedicated and tireless advocate for the District’s gay and lesbian community. We worked closely with her on numerous issues and could always count on her leadership and idealism. We are more than pleased that she is ready to re-emerge as a public servant in another critical role.

Her nomination to the Public Service Commission comes at a crucial time, just as both PEPCO and Washington Gas Light are petitioning the Commission for substantial rate increases. At the community hearings that the PSC is expected to schedule later this year on these proposed rate hikes, GLAA will be urging the Commission to reject both plans until and unless these two utilities implement equitable domestic partner benefit plans.

We wrote both companies last summer after we learned that they are among only a handful of local firms ranked in the Fortune 500 that do not offer such plans. They both refused to remedy the problem. We believe such stubbornness violates these companies’ own stated commitment not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and is incompatible with the District’s very clear public policy in favor of “equal pay for equal work.”

We believe that Ms. Kane will give our case a full hearing and will work constructively with her fellow Commissioners to reach a judicious decision. Our brief exposure to the workings of the PSC has impressed us with their determination to be seen as fair and impartial in everything they do, and Betty Ann Kane should fit in perfectly with that kind of corporate culture. Accordingly, we urge this Committee and the Council as a whole to confirm her nomination.

Before concluding today, Ms. Cheh, I would like to urge you and your Council colleagues to take an active role in helping to persuade PEPCO and Washington Gas to just do the right thing and implement equitable domestic partner benefits. We are frankly annoyed that both utilities have come down with a bad case of the “haftas,” claiming that they don’t “hafta” offer domestic partner benefits under their interpretation of current laws and regulations and don’t “hafta” do so to attract and maintain what they consider an adequate workforce. We would remind them that by the same token, the Council doesn’t “hafta” provide them with any special favors, privileges or other kinds of legislative goodies. We therefore urge this Committee to flag any special requests coming from these utilities and hold them up until and unless these two companies allow domestic partners the same access to health and other benefits they currently offer to their married employees.

The Council has used this kind of leverage strategy before, to good effect. Back in the 1980s, the gay and lesbian community was involved in protracted struggles with the openly discriminatory practices in two local organizations. The Big Brothers of the National Capital Area refused to allow openly gay men to serve either as volunteer Big Brothers or as paid employees, while Georgetown University refused to recognize campus gay and lesbian civil rights groups. The Council played a decisive role in helping to end both conflicts by holding up legislative actions desired by each holdout until they ended their homophobic policies. To this day, the settlements reached in both cases remain effectively in place, so it was a win-win all around. Now it is this Council’s turn to follow those worthy precedents.

Thank you. I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.

[Addendum. Craig Howell reports from the hearing: I was one of five public witnesses who testified before Betty Ann spoke on her own behalf. Councilmembers Brown and Wells, both Committee members, were there briefly to make statements supporting Kane, then left (Tommy heard a bit of my testimony before leaving). Chairman Cheh thanked me for bringing this matter to her attention and promised she would we be pro-active on this matter. Larry Mirel, who was on the same panel I was, volunteered that his experience as Insurance Commissioner some time back showed there’s no insurer problem with companies offering DP benefits, though individual companies may have problems or objections for other reasons.]

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