Orange County voters likely will face several significant decisions this fall that could restrict their power to petition their local government, as well as how they choose who represents them.
Republican county commissioners strongly signaled Tuesday that they want to sponsor ballot referendums that would expand term limits, increase non-partisan races and add two more seats to their own board.
They also want to ask voters if putting citizen initiatives on the ballot should be more difficult.
The lone Democrat on the board voted to delay the issues for further study next year. But business and hospitality leaders were pleased with the fall referendum push.
“We’re happy to see something we talked about moving ahead,” said Mike Ketchum, a lobbyist for the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce who fears confusing ballot measures could go to voters without changes.
Making initiatives harder was a top priority for the West Orange Chamber of Commerce and Central Florida Hotel and Lobbying Association, whose leaders say the current process is open to abuse by nationally funded groups.
They pointed to a paid-sick-time referendum backed by local and national progressive groups that collected more than 50,000 county voter petitions to get on the 2012 ballot. It was ultimately blocked from a vote by Orange commissioners, and later preempted by GOP state lawmakers.
“Let’s stop the outsiders,” said Rich Maladecki, CEO of the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association.
Progressive groups and government watchdogs panned the new measures, saying they were rushed to the ballot. They also said there was no need to make the initiative process more difficult, since it’s never been successfully utilized.
“It shows a complete lack of confidence in the voters,” said Michele Levy, co-president of Orange County League of Women Voters. “It’s an insult to the hardworking citizens of Orange County.”
Commissioner Fred Brummer first pushed for a vote on the proposals in a special summer mail-in election. But the board rejected that idea last month as too costly and hasty. They opted instead to re-consider putting some or all of them to voters in the regular fall elections.
Not all of the proposals survived. Commissioners scrapped his plan for abolishing the elected tax collector post.