by Lisa Cyriacks

The 2014 election ballot has shaped up to be a “below-average” year for ballot initiatives. There are currently four ballot questions approved to be voted on by Colorado voters. An average number of six measures have appeared annually on the ballot since 1996.

Currently on the ballot is Amendment 67, “Colorado Definition of Person and Child Initiative”. If approved by the voters, the measure would include unborn human beings under the definition of person and child in the Colorado criminal code including fetuses in all areas of law. Personhood Colorado, which sponsored the initiative, turned in over 140,000 signatures, surpassing the 86,105 required signatures by a significant margin.

The second measure on the ballot is the “Colorado Horse Racetrack Limited Gaming Proceeds for K-12 Education Amendment”. The measure, if approved, would establish an education fund to address local educational needs. The fund would be capitalized through additional revenues generated by expanded gaming such as slot machines, card games, roulette and craps at horse racetracks in Arapahoe, Mesa, and Pueblo Counties.

Gambling revenue taxes are not currently allocated specifically to K-12 education. Instead, these taxes are allocated to local communities, historic preservation, community colleges, tourism promotion and the state’s general fund. Gambling revenues in Colorado are subject to a graduated tax with a maximum assessment of 20%. In 2013 this came to approximately $104.3 million. Colorado legalized casinos in 1990 and as of 2013 had 41 operating casinos employing 9,278 people.

The third measure is “Colorado School Board Open Meetings Initiative”. This initiative would require that meetings during which collective bargaining negotiations or employment contract negotiations take place in meetings be open to the public. The ballot question was approved by the Secretary of State’s office August 13 after proponents submitted 129,850 signatures.

On August 20 the Secretary of State certified the fourth measure on the ballot “Colorado Mandatory Labeling of GMOs”. The measure would require any raw, processed, or prepackaged commodity that has been produced using genetic modification to include on the label: “Produced with genetic engineering.” The law would go into effect beginning January 1, 2016.

Colorado Right to Know delivered 167,950 signatures—almost twice the required amount of 86,105—on August 5 to the Secretary of State’s office for verification.

Foods from animals that are not genetically modified but have been fed or injected with genetically modified food or drugs are exempt, as are unpackaged foods for immediate consumption, alcoholic beverages, food for animals and medically prescribed foods.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment would be responsible for regulating the labeling under the proposed statue.

It is estimated that more than 80% of processed foods contain genetically engineered ingredients, primarily from GMO corn, soy, canola, cotton, sugar beets and other GMO crops. In a July 2013 New York Times survey, 93% of respondents support GMO labeling. More than 64 other countries require mandatory labeling of GMO food.

Withdrawn from this year’s ballot were four oil- and gas-related amendments. Signatures for measures were submitted August 4, but as part of a compromise brokered by Governor John Hickenlooper and US Representative Jarod Polis, the initiatives were withdrawn from the Colorado Secretary of State.

The measures were at the heart of a costly political battle over whether local governments should have more control over oil and gas activity in Colorado, which is currently managed by the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.  The deal also calls for the state to withdraw its lawsuit against the City of Longmont. Longmont two years ago had passed zoning ordinances limiting oil and gas activity in residential areas. The state had sued the city contending that it had superseded its authority.

The other pivotal part of the compromise entails the formation of a an 18-person task force charged with making recommendations to the legislature to help minimize land use conflicts that can occur when siting oil and gas facilities near homes, schools, businesses and recreational areas. The task force will include six residents and local officials; six people from industry, including oil and gas, homebuilders and agriculture; and six “respected Coloradans.” La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt and XTO Energy President Randy Cleveland will chair the task force.