Panel of judges say sick-leave initiative to go on next ballot

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - A panel of three Orange County circuit judges handed a major legal victory to supporters of the controversial sick-leave initiative on Friday.

Orange County commissioners kept the sick-leave measure off the ballot last fall, even after enough signatures were collected to ensure it would go to voters.

The group pushing for sick leave took the matter to court. Now, a panel of judges said commissioners failed to follow the county's charter and ordered the county to put the initiative on a future ballot.

The sternly-worded order notes that more than 50,000 signatures were collected to get the measure on a ballot.

"We followed the same rules, played by the law and we expected the county to do the same thing," said Maria McCluskey of Citizens for a Greater Orange County.

The ruling says the county charter “plainly requires Orange County either to adopt the voter initiative or to call a referendum on the petition’s adoption and place the petition on the first ballot occurring 45 days after the board rejects the initiative.”

The judges added, “This Board failed to act as (its) charter requires…”

Now, according to the order, Orange County has 30 days to adopt a resolution that places the sick time leave measure “on the next primary, general or special election ballot occurring 45 days from the date of the resolution.”

Circuit Judges Frederick Lauten, C. Jeffrey Arnold and Julie O’Kane signed Friday’s order.

The county said putting the measure on the ballot could cost $2 million.

At the same time, supporters are worried about bills working their way through the legislature that could block measures like this from being decided locally.

"We think at the end of the day, the right thing will be done for the citizens," said McCluskey.

The county wouldn't talk to Channel 9 on camera, but in a statement said county attorneys would meet with the mayor and county commissioners next week to figure out a plan of action.