Saturday, April 19, 2014 · 7:06 p.m.

Petition drive nears finish line

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A petition drive to put domestic partnership benefits to a referendum is moving closer to its goal, the group behind the effort announced Saturday.

Citizens for Government Accountability and Transparency has turned in more than 3,500 signatures. The conservative political action committee has until Tuesday to collect 4,500 signed petitions.

The group’s Brainerd headquarters was open over most of the Thanksgiving holiday. And it planned to have 50 volunteers outside of malls and shopping centers on Black Friday and Saturday, according to a post on its Facebook page. Volunteers also went door to door to collect signatures, said Mark West, the PAC’s president, in the email announcement.

West wrote that the group is one step closer to its goal of allowing voters to decide whether Chattanooga’s health insurance plan should be extended "to the girlfriends and boyfriends of city employees."

The Chattanooga City Council narrowly passed the law in November after months of divisive public debate.

The ordinance provides health insurance to city employees’ domestic partners, including couples in same-sex relationships, and adds sexual orientation to the city’s nondiscrimination policy. The PAC wants voters to overturn the ordinance’s health insurance component.

The law’s supporters are mobilizing and preparing for a likely referendum in August 2014. Councilman Chris Anderson, the ordinance’s sponsor, began raising money two weeks ago "to inform voters and get them out to the polls."

Tennessee Equality Project, a Nashville-based organization that promotes LGBT legislation in the state, and Chattanooga Organized for Action, a local progressive nonprofit, distributed information over the weekend about the domestic partnership law.

"We’re concerned that residents are being misled about what this ordinance does and does not do," said Kat Cooper, a Collegedale detective and member of the TEP’s Hamilton County chapter.

"Domestic partners would have to buy into the family benefit plan the same as current employees’ spouses do," the nonprofit organization said in an emailed statement.

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