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Happytown: Orange County sick-time fight

Orange County Commissioners attempt to thwart sick-time initiative with competing ballot measure

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While the Grand Old Pretenders were in Tampa recreating recent history and reminding us that Democrats are just a bunch of shifty heathens who spend your money on social programs, hate family values and don't wear cowboy hats, and the Democrats were in Charlotte trying to win us all back again – they really, really care, you guys, and they're gonna do better this time, OK? – our local pols were hard at work on their own designs for November.

The Orange County Commission, as you may recall, has been wringing its hands over what to do about a dastardly grass-roots effort to get a measure on the ballot that would allow voters to decide whether businesses in the OC should have to provide paid sick time to employees – as of now, if you're hacking up phlegmballs and you happen to work at, say, a local restaurant, your employer doesn't have to offer you the option of calling in sick. Instead, you call in and lose your pay for that day (and possibly your job, if your employer is a dick), or go to work sick and infect the rest of us with whatever ails you. So Citizens for a Greater Orange County – a coalition of community and social-justice groups – gathered signatures for a petition that asked voters to decide whether that's how we want to do business in our community.

A bunch of business interests kicked up a fuss and insisted that this thing is going to destroy the economy. They've waged an aggressive campaign against the sick-time initiative but failed to keep it off the ballot – so now the Orange County Commission is gearing up to give the business groups a helping hand by proposing a counter-measure that could undermine the will of the voters.

On Tuesday afternoon, the commission was scheduled to decide whether to put another measure on the ballot that would make it illegal for the county to regulate employee-employer relations. If voters approve both the sick-time measure and this new ballot question on regulation, the sick-time measure would be nullified.

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs has already expressed her support for the counter-measure (because jobs, even ones that treat you like crap, are still jobs).

The very notion that the commission would even propose such a workaround has touched a raw nerve with the public. Stephanie Porta, executive director of Organize Now, one of the groups behind the sick-time initiative, says the efforts of Jacobs and the commission make a mockery of the process that makes it possible for the public to bring forth policy measures that they'd like to see put before voters. There's pretty much no point to it if the county is going to thwart your efforts anyway.

"Here you have this whole citizen-initiative process set up in a way that citizens can petition the government to get something on the ballot," Porta says. "For the first time ever, citizens in Orange County did that, and then [Mayor] Teresa Jacobs is putting up a counter-measure that would negate it. What kind of message does that send to voters in Orange County? What message does that send about telling people to take part in our democratic process?"

We would have liked to have brought you the verdict of this ethical showdown – we sat through two hours of the Tuesday afternoon county commission meeting, waiting for it to come up – but as of press time, the commission still hadn't decided what to do about it. So instead, we now know the ins and outs of the new $250 million I-Drive Live development – a Ferris wheel, a wax museum, an aquarium, oh my! – and its signage concerns. Wonder if those underpaid I-Drive staffers will get sick time? Doubt it!

UPDATE! After we went to press, Billy Manes live blogged the County Commission's full debate on the competing sick-time measures. In the end, neither of the measures will appear on the ballot. Read his full, detailed back-and-forth at this link.

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