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Prang wants to correct the hitch in domestic partnerships New Assembly bill closes a discriminatory property tax gap By KAREN OCAMB Before Edie Windsor explained to the world that same-sex couples suffered a terrible discriminatory financial disadvantage, as well as emotional trauma at the death of a loved one—the AIDS crisis revealed just how cruel discrimination against gay couples could be. Hospitals denied visitation rights to the partner of a loved one dying alone as estranged family members looted and often claimed the home the couple had shared. Lambda Legal and the ACLU offered seminars on how to draw up wills to protect shared property that—without the legality of marriage— automatically transferred to the next of kin. The new City of West Hollywood saw that need and created the first domestic partnership registry in 1985 to provide legal standing to two unmarried adults who were each other’s sole partner and shared responsibility for each other’s welfare. A statewide domestic partnership registry was signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis in 1999 and another more expansive law, AB 205 by Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg, was signed into law in 2003, effective 2005. But separate was not equal and the pressure for full marriage equality intensified until the US Supreme Court declared that Edie Windsor was not required to pay $363,053 in federal estate taxes after her beloved wife Thea Spyer died in 2009. After years of legal wrangling, the Court ruled in June 2013 that Sec. 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act—which the IRS said made her claim of an estate exemption invalid— was unconstitutional and ordered the government to give her a tax refund with interest. But a lot of same-sex couples eschew marriage, preferring the legal protections of domestic partnership instead. Indeed, West Hollywood announced on Oct. 23, 2014 that it had registered its 10,000th couple under the Domestic Partnership ordinance. Until new legislation in 2009, domestic partners had to pay huge tax hikes upon the death of their loved one.

Los Angeles County Assessor Jeffrey Prang Los Angeles Blade Photo by Karen Ocamb

The LA Times, for instance, told the story of Don Atkins whose life partner of 37 years, Ted Horzella, died in 2005. Registered with the state as domestic partners, Atkins suddenly faced an annual property tax bill that skyrocketed from $1,400 to $10,400. Additionally, he had to pay an attorney $6,700 to fight his property reassessment and had to pay LA County an additional $20,000 in taxes. Finally, the California Legislature passed a bill sponsored by out state Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) to exempt statewide domestic partners reassessed between 2006 and 2000. Unbeknownst to many intending to register as domestic partners in their local cities or counties—assessment of property can still be higher upon death of a partner. Out LA County Assessor Jeff Prang—who was registered for his domestic partnership with Ray Vizcarra, before the couple married— wants to correct the problem.

Prang is sponsoring AB 2663 with bill author Assemblymember Laura Friedman; the bill is co-authored by out LGBT Legislative Caucus Chair Assemblymember Evan Low. AB 2663, introduced on Feb. 15, is designed to fix the discrepancy that exists between state and local property tax exclusions for domestic partners regarding changes in property ownership since domestic partners registered with a county, city or other local jurisdiction continue to be ineligible for the exclusions. “Over the last decade, we’ve taken significant steps to ensure that couples in domestic partnerships have the same rights as married couples,” Friedman told the Los Angeles Blade.  “AB 2663 fixes a gap in the law that treats couples differently based solely on where they registered their partnership.” “Especially in times like these, the principle that all people should be treated fairly and equally seems pretty basic and

something upon which we can all agree,” Prang tells the Los Angeles Blade. “Treating people with fairness and equality is not only the right thing to do, it is written into our laws and safeguarded by the Constitution. This basic ideal of equality serves as the very foundation for property valuation within the California tax system. As the Assessor for the largest County in California, it is my responsibility to ensure that all property owners have the same rights regardless of marital status.” The bill, Prang says, “creates parity in the law so that every domestic partnership has equal access to benefits, regardless of where they originally registered. Most importantly, the bill creates an ‘amnesty’ for those local registered domestic partnerships to receive a reversal of the reassessment, and appropriate refunds.” Now the process of gathering support begins.

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