by Lisa Cyriacks
Six statewide ballot questions have already qualified for the 2016 ballot. And there could be as many as five more, including two controversial anti-fracking measures.
Ballot issues are popular nationwide this year. According to nonpartisan, online news sources, 147 statewide ballot measures in 35 states have been certified for the 2016 General Election ballot. Of the 147, 67 are the result of initiative petition drives, more than in any other year since 2008.
This election cycle millions of dollars are being spent by corporations, lobbying groups, wealthy individuals and other interest groups to influence the outcome of ballot issues. Yet initiatives provide a unique opportunity to affect the outcome of national elections. Historically voters energized about a particular ballot initiative are more likely to register and turn out to vote. In this election year, where subsets of the electorate who are otherwise turned off at the notion of having to vote for one of two of the most unpopular major party presidential candidates ever, voters may just turn up to vote their passion on a chosen issue they are passionate about.
Raise the bar
The most recent petition certified to have sufficient signatures to make the ballot, Raise the Bar, concerns amending the Colorado constitution. Proponents of the measure say that the requirements included in the measure would make it harder to amend the Colorado Constitution.
A proposal to make it more difficult to amend the state constitution was killed in the legislature in 2012 and voters defeated a referendum on the issue in 2008. Governor John Hickenlooper and a bipartisan coalition of business interests launched the petition drive in June of this year. Vital for Colorado, an organization of civic and business leaders formed in 2014 to support the oil and gas industry, has contributed $300,000 toward the campaign.
The measure to make future measures harder would require those seeking signatures to gather them in all 35 Senate districts throughout Colorado. Currently ballot measure committees can gather signatures anywhere, which usually just means along the densely populated Front Range. The measure would also make passing a ballot measure harder by requiring a vote of 55% or more, not just a simple majority.
Opponents of the measure—Colorado Common Cause and The Independence Institute—don’t believe the constitutional amendment will make the process better, only more expensive. “A change like this won’t hurt wealthy people who can put millions into amendment campaigns,” Caldara said. “But it will make it much more expensive for grassroots campaigns.”
Since Colorado established an initiative process (1912), voters have approved 112 amendments to the state constitution—70 amendments were referred to voters by the General Assembly and 42 were placed on the ballot by citizen petition.
In recent years, the trend of state legislators proposing more amendments to Colorado’s constitution than have been proposed through the citizen initiative has continued. In the last 20 years, there have been 38 new amendments—20 of them placed on the ballot by legislators and 18 by way of citizen petition.
In addition to the frequency of amendment, content is just as worthy of consideration. If Raise the Bar were in place today, what would Coloradans be missing from their state constitution? Sixty-eight percent of ballot measures approved by a majority of Coloradans would be gone—including the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), Amendment 23 on funding for schools, term limit measures, medical and retail marijuana, and Colorado minimum wage.
Colorado End-of-Life Options Act
The Medical Aid in Dying Initiative would change state law and permits mentally capable adults within the final stages of a diagnosed terminal illness to self-administer life-ending medication. The measure also provides immunity from civil and criminal liability to any person who assists or is present when a patient self-administers the medication.
Currently five states already authorize medical aid in dying: California, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. This act is modeled after Oregon’s law—the longest-term law in effect (19 years).
The main opponent, Not Dead Yet, is a national grassroots disability rights group that opposes legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia as deadly forms of discrimination against old, ill, and disabled people.
Increasing state minimum wage
The Colorado Families for a Fair Wage proposal would incrementally raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. The current statewide minimum wage is $8.31 per hour.
The constitutional amendment—which will be opposed by a number of major business groups—collected over 189,000 signatures.
If approved, the amendment would replace the 2006 citizen-initiated amendment to raise the minimum wage.
ColoradoCare Single Payer Health Insurance
Amendment 69 was approved to the ballot in November 2015 when proponents submitted 158,831 signatures. The proposal would eliminate private insurance for a 10% wage tax to cover health expenses. Employers would share employees’ costs. (See August Crestone Eagle article for more information, www.crestoneeagle.com/?s=amendment+69&x=0&y=0)
Despite Progress Now and other Democratic leaders coming out in opposition mid-August, Senator Aguilar and activists have decided not to pull the ballot question at this point.
In a recent interview, Senator Aguilar shared, “When Sen. (Bernie) Sanders left the race, I said to my colleagues that my concern was apathy on the part of the people because there would be nothing on the ballot of interest to them. ColoradoCare had the potential to be that something. I saw it as a place for the Bernie people to put their energy now that Bernie isn’t there. It still could be. There are people making efforts to get him out here personally to campaign for us.
“. . . Besides, of all the election years to try something way out there, this is it. People are pissed. People have lost total trust in government to the point of electing Donald Trump to be the Republican nominee. After all these politicians have come out speaking against us, I think we have a chance to make some people who wouldn’t otherwise like us actually embrace this idea. It could happen. I think it’s all pretty unpredictable.
“What we see here are Democrats caving in to the extensive lobbying efforts of insurance companies who want this measure to go away.”
Also on the ballot
There will also be two legislative-referred measures: Amendment T would remove an exception to the prohibition of slavery that allows individuals to be held in involuntary servitude if convicted of a crime. Amendment U would grant a property tax exemption for possessory interests whose value is $6,000 or less.
Supporters of the following measures submitted signatures by the signature deadline and are still awaiting a decision by the Secretary of State:
• Local Control of Oil and Gas Development Amendment (I-75)
• Mandatory Setback from Oil and Gas Development Amendment (I-78)
• Unaffiliated Elector Initiative (I-98)
• Presidential Primary Election Initiative (I-140)
• Tobacco Tax Increase (I-143)
Saguache County tax questions on the ballot
Saguache County Commissioners approved two ballot questions for raising taxes. The first is based on a proposal submitted by a bi-partisan committee of citizens to raise sales taxes by one percent (1%) in support of Saguache County law enforcement and to provide matching funds toward a new justice center to be located in Saguache County.
The second measure approved by the Commissioners is to impose a five percent (5%) excise tax on the first sale or transfer of unprocessed marijuana by a retail marijuana cultivation facility located with Saguache County.