Guest Commentary: Proposed Amendment 10 protects Florida

With 12 proposed amendments on the ballot this November, Florida voters have a lot of studying to do before they head to the polls. I hope you’ll consider this a convenient study guide on one of those decisions: Amendment 10.

The “Protection Amendment,” as it is called, would create in the Constitution a permanent Department of Veterans’ Affairs, create an office of counterterrorism under the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, change the start date of legislative sessions in even-numbered years, and ensure the election of constitutional officers. In essence, the provisions protect our veterans, protect our families, protect our right to vote, and protect our tax dollars. It is not expected to grow government’s size or increase taxes.

As an elected official, it’s the last provision that I want to discuss first. Amendment 10 protects your right to vote by ensuring all five constitutional officers (tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections, clerk of court and sheriff) are elected by the people they serve. In some Florida counties, voter rights have been diminished and the right to vote for these officers has been taken away. In order to consolidate power, three counties have abolished one or more of these important constitutional offices and hired administrators instead of entrusting that decision to voters. As the elected Tax Collector in and for Palm Beach County since 2006, stakeholders have total clarity about who determines whether I keep my job: the voters.

When constitutional officers are abolished, direct accountability to the voters is lost. There is no longer a name and face to hold accountable. Rather, the important services I provide are transferred to an administrator who is accountable to a board or county manager – not to the voters. That’s not the kind of accountability – or transparency – that I believe is best for Florida voters. Consider the impact of appointed property appraisers, for example. When budgets get tight, administrators can push a hired property appraiser to raise property appraisals. An elected property appraiser never forgets that the voters are their boss. It’s vital that we enshrine this protection into our Constitution. Not only will it stem the slow erosion of voter privileges, it will restore the right to vote to communities from which it has been stripped – in some communities for generations. (Miami-Dade voters haven’t elected a tax collector or sheriff in more than 40 years.)

Restoration of voter rights would be cause enough to vote yes on Amendment 10, but there are other important benefits.

It behooves Floridians to protect our veterans who have served and sacrificed so much for our nation. This amendment will establish in the Constitution a permanent Department of Veterans’ Affairs and would better position our state to meet the ever-changing needs of Florida’s 1.5 million veterans.

Furthermore, passage of Amendment 10 will create the Office of Domestic Security and Counterterrorism within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. First responders who support Amendment 10 say it will provide essential support for law enforcement agencies to prevent or respond to acts of terrorism.

On Election Day, filling in bubbles on a ballot slip can make it feel like you’re taking a high-stakes test – and you’re right. In this case, at least, there’s an easy answer, and it’s the only right one: Vote “yes” on Amendment 10.

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