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Judge upholds ballot measure on county offices

Florida voters have the right to decide whether all local constitutional officers, including sheriffs and tax collectors, should be elected, a Leon County judge ruled.

Circuit Judge James Shelfer on Thursday rejected a challenge from Volusia and Broward counties that sought to have what is known as Amendment 10 removed from the Nov. 6 general-election ballot. The challenge argued the ballot language and summary were misleading.

The amendment, which was placed on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission, would make the five constitutional offices — sheriff, tax collector, supervisor of elections, clerk of the court and property appraiser — mandatory and require elections for the offices in all 67 counties. It would also prohibit charter counties from abolishing or modifying those offices.

In his ruling, Shelfer said “an average Florida voter should easily understand” the chief purpose of the amendment. He also rejected an argument from the challengers that the constitutional-officer provisions were unfairly sandwiched between “feel good” proposals in the ballot measure related to military veterans and counter-terrorism.

He acknowledged the amendment was unclear on whether its impact would be “prospective or retrospective.” But he said “that is a question for another case and another day.”

Shelfer also noted his order was “the first stop in a journey to the Florida Supreme Court whose decision will determine if the amendment makes it onto the ballot.”

Volusia, Broward and other charter counties have opposed the amendment, arguing that local voters through the charter process should have the power to decide how constitutional offices are structured and whether they should be elected positions.

Carolyn Timmann, the Martin County clerk of court who helped craft the amendment while serving on the Constitution Revision Commission, said the ballot measure “protects the people’s right to vote” for constitutional officers. She said she was “happy that the people of Florida will have the opportunity to vote on this, along with other measures important to protecting our veterans, families and tax dollars.”

In addition to the constitutional-officer provisions, Amendment 10 would allow the Legislature to begin its annual session in January in even-numbered years. It would create an Office of Domestic Security and Counterterrorism in the Department of Law Enforcement. And it would revise the constitutional authority for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

The Constitution Revision Commission meets every 20 years and has unique power to place proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot. Amendment 10 is one of four ballot measures approved by the commission that are being challenged in court.

Other measures under litigation include ballot proposals to ban greyhound racing (Amendment 13), to expand the use of charter schools and impose school-board term limits (Amendment 8) and to establish victims’ rights in the state Constitution (Amendment 6).

In total, 13 constitutional amendments have been slated for the November ballot, including eight measures passed by the commission. To be enacted, each amendment must be approved by at least 60 percent of the voters.

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

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