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Colorado ballot initiative news, 2008-March 2009 archive
- For current news, see Colorado ballot initiative news
New ballot battle arising in Colorado
The Colorado Trial Lawyers Association is the latest group apparently using the Colorado initiative process to strike back at its enemies. The group filed nine ballot measures on April 23, 2008, apparently a response to a ballot measure filed in March by former State Legislator Mark Hillman that would limit attorney's contingency fees in civil court judgments.
One of the measures imposes increased state taxes on federal farm subsidies, of which Hillman is reportedly a recipient.
Affirmative Action proponents file lawsuit
On April 23, 2008, opponents of the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative filed a lawsuit challenging the signatures filed. The suit challenges the validity of 68,948 names, claiming there are duplicate signatures, some collected by non-residents, and others that don't match names on Colorado's voter list.
Jessica Corry, a spokeswoman for the Amendment 46 campaign, said all petitioners were Colorado residents.
The Secretary of State's office checked about 5% of sognatures and found about two-thirds to be valid. If that ratio held up, there would be about 10,000 more valid signatures than required. Opponents say they used a computer program to check all signatures against voter records.
Senate passes measure to make it harder to amend constitution
On Monday, April 21, 2008, the Senate passed a measure that would make it harder to amend the constitution but easier to call a vote on state statutes. The measure, Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, still needs to pass the House by a two-thirds vote and be approved by a majority of voters in November before it would become law.
The proposal, would increase the signature requirement for constitutional amendments by more than 15,000, drop the signature requirement for placing a new state law on the ballot, add a distribution requirement, and establish an earlier deadline for filing initiatives.
The bill originally required at least 10% of petition signatures to be gathered in each congressional district, but the Senate committee lowered it to 5% before approving it. However, an amendment on the Senate floor restored the orginal 10% requirement.
"This measure fixes petitions the way a veterinarian would fix your pet," said Rep. Bruce.
House Speaker to offer amendment to repeal parts of TABOR
Before House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D-Denver) is term-limited out of the legislature, he has proposed a constitutional amendment to overhaul the state constitution—repealing parts of TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) and other amendments that he says cripples government.
The proposal, introduced April 21, 2008, would create a constitutionally protected savings account for public education. Romanoff and other lawmakers have complained that various amendments have tied their hands, taking away the discretion they need to craft a sound state budget.
"I've tried to address the concerns I've heard over the last few months and I'm hopeful that we can build a consensus," he said. "It's tough. I think we're trapped in a game of political chicken where nobody wants to blink first."
The bill would permanently repeal the spending limitations imposed by the 1992 Taxpayer Bill of Rights—as well as refunds to taxpayers when those limits were reached—while preserving the requirement that all tax increases be approved by voters. It also would repeal a major provision of Amendment 23, passed after TABOR to require spending on K-12 education to increase regardless of limits on overall spending increases forced by TABOR.
To protect K-12 education during economic downturns, the proposal would create a rainy-day fund within the $3 billion K-12 education budget. The amendment would also protect a 1997 highway funding law known as Senate Bill 1 by specifying that the highway funds (about $220 million a year) would have first claim on general fund revenues above a 6% yearly increase.
"It's a coalition deal," said Sen. Steve Johnson (R-Fort Collins), co-sponsored of the bill. "That's the only way we're going to get this done."
Romanoff got public pledges of support from several Republicans: Rep. Ellen Roberts of Durango, Sen. Steve Johnson of Loveland, and Attorney General John Suthers.
"I know it's politically risky, particularly from my side of the aisle. However, when I was elected from my district, I didn't come up here for an easy job," Roberts said.
As with all legislatively-referred amendments, the measure will have to be approved by a two-thirds vote of the legislature in order to be placed on the November ballot for voter approval.
Republicans plan amendment to undo mill-levy freeze
Republican legislators plan to propose a constitutional amendment to repeal a mill-levy freeze on property taxes passed by the legislature last year, which Republicans call an illegal tax increase.
The freeze freezes the rate at which property taxes are assessed as property values rise. But without the freeze, mill levies would normally decrease when property values rise rapidly. The freeze, Republicans argue, thus amounts to a tax increase, which should have been approved by voters according to the state constitution.
The measure will have to be approved by a two-thirds vote of the legislature in order to be placed on the November ballot for voter approval.
Ballot measure would prohibit deals to avoid deportation
State Sen. Ted Harvey (R-Highlands Ranch) is proposing a constitutional amendment to ban plea deals that allow illegal immigrants to avoid deportation. The measure would go to voters if the legislature approves it.
Courts could still accept such deals if prosecutors don't have a strong case for a more serious charge and the deal isn't intended to help the defendant avoid deportation.
Ritter was criticized during the 2006 campaign for letting an illegal immigrant who was charged with heroin possession plead guilty to agricultural trespassing instead, allowing the man to avoid deportation. He was later accused of a sex crime in California.
Gov. Ritter offers promise to "keep the Peace"
In the latest shot in continuing efforts to avoid a ballot confrontation between business and labor in November, Gov. Bill Ritter has now offered to veto any future legislation that would change Colorado's existing labor laws if sponsors of the business- and labor-backed ballot initiatives will withdraw them from the ballot.
If both sides withdraw their initiatives—the Right to Work Initiative and a series of labor-backed intitiatives regarding workplace conditions and employee benefits—Ritter would agree to veto any legislation that would change the Labor Peace Act, a 65-year-old series of laws that governs the way unions can organize workers in Colorado.
Colorado's Labor Peace Act requires two separate votes by employees to create all-union workplaces, which has led to a relatively small number of union shops in the state.
John Brackney, president of the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, which represents 1,600 businesses with 100,000 employees, said he was briefed on the plan last week (week of April 7, 2008) by the Governor's chief of staff. Union officials said they have also been informed of the plan.
"Why do we need 'right to work' and why do we need the labor initiatives?" said Brackney said.
Business groups and unions could end up spending millions of dollars to support their respective proposals and to fight their opponents if the measures make the ballot.
According to Joe Blake, president of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, "If you could preserve the Labor Peace Act, if that could be the whole outcome of this rattling of sabers, that would be the best outcome."
Right to Work supporters file signatures despite Governor's pleas
Right to Work Initiative supporters filed more than 133,000 signatures with Secretary of State Mike Coffman's office on April 9, 2008, despite Gov. Bill Ritter's high-profile closed-door meeting Monday, April 7, 2008, in his Capitol office asking them to stand down. Ritter also is asking unions to withdraw their ballot proposals.
Initiative supporters need only 76,000 valid signatures to get the measure on the November 2008 ballot. Coffman's office has 30 days to certify the signatures.
"This is an exciting day for Colorado," Jonathan Coors, director of CoorsTek and a major supporter of the initiative, said in a release. "This amendment will give Colorado workers the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not to join a union and protect the rights of all employees in the state."
Gov. Ritter hasn't given up, according to his spokesman Evan Dreyer, who also rejected suggestions that the Governor's meeting was a failure.
"There are still opportunities to de-escalate this situation and avoid a bitter, ugly battle in November," Dreyer said. "We will continue to communicate with all the stakeholders. Gov. Ritter feels very strongly about doing what is best for the entire state of Colorado, and that means trying to clear all these measures off the ballot."
Complaint alleges Right-to-Work financial reports lacking
A lawyer representing the Protect Colorado's Future coalition has filed a complaint alleging campaign finance law violations by a group calling itself the Colorado Right to Work Committee. The group registered as an issue group last fall but has filed only minimal financial information with the state.
The complaint was written on behalf of Mike Cerbo, executive director of the Colorado AFL-CIO. "This has been a big perplexing issue," Cerbo said of Right to Work Initiative opponents' attempts to figure out who is supporting the initiative. "We want to know who we are dealing with.... And where are they getting their money? That's why we have campaign finance laws."
Protect Colorado's Future is opposing the Right to Work Initiative and has submitted several proposals of its own, including Initiative 73 which would allow any Colorado resident to bring a lawsuit against business executives and other employees if they know about corporate fraud or criminal activity and do not stop or report it.
Everyone mum after Governor's closed-door meeting
No one was talking after Monday's closed-door meeting between Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and proponents of the controversial Right to Work Initiative. The Governor called the meeting in the hopes of averting a political showdown between business and unions at the polls this November.
In attendance were Jonathan Coors, of the famous Colorado brewery family and an executive with Coors Tek, and Joe Blake, chief executive of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. Both are major supporters of the Right to Work Initiative. Some news reports say that Chuck Berry, president of the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, and former University of Denver Chancellor Dan Ritchie were also at the meeting.
"Gov. Ritter met with several members of the Colorado business community this afternoon," said his spokesman, Evan Dreyer. "They have agreed not to talk about what they talked about. These are important and sensitive conversations, and it is best if they occur away from the spotlight, at their own pace and in their own way."
"We're in the place where we have guns pointed at each other," Ritter said. "If we want the best thing for Colorado, let's talk about how we move forward."
"This is a very high-stakes game," said Joe Blake, CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. "I liken it to World War I in the sense that all the countries had plans to mobilize but no plans to demobilize. The labor movement in Colorado has been a powerful constituency for the future of our state and keeping it competitive. But if (these initiatives) are rendered, plans for education, transportation and health care are going to be very seriously impaired."
The meeting was an attempt to head off a battle that most observers seem to believe will have no winners. Early skermishing began with introduction of the Right to Work Initiative—a traditionally sensitive issue between unions and business—followed by the introduction of several initiatives by a pro-labor group that would make it much harder to fire employees and would allow any Colorado resident to sue executives who do not stop or report corporate fraud.
When the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry announced endorsement of the Right to Work Initiative Friday, March 28, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 7 fired back on Monday with five initiatives of its own, which together, would provide every worker in Colorado with many of the things unions work to obtain for employees: guaranteed annual pay raises, health care, safe workplaces, and security against firings.
Many of the political players aren't eager to see it play out at the polls, urging both sides to pull their initiatives to avoid a bloodbath.
With so many issues on the table in November, significant wins by either side—even by small margins—could mean a big shift in the balance of political power in the state. And if any of the union-pushed measures pass, it could reinforce a growing perception that Colorado is becoming less welcoming to business.
Senate committee delays vote on petition rules changes
A Senate committee delayed a vote until April 9, 2008, on a measure to make it harder for citizens to place constitutional amendments on the ballot for voter approval but easier to call a vote on state statutes, after hearing from critics on April 7.
Initiative activists and State Rep. Doug Bruce are fighting the change the rules. They say the distribution requirement could hurt grass roots groups that rely on volunteers to collect signatures. Currently, there are no requirements on where the signatures come from, as long as they are from registered Colorado voters. (Read more details on the measure, below.)
Union-Business battle turning into full-scale war; both sides being urged to back off
Gov. Bill Ritter, U.S. Senator Ken Salazar, as well as other politicians and political commentators across Colorado, are calling on both sides in a brewing battle over ballot measures to call a truce for the good of everyone involved. The battling centers around a business groups's endorsement of the Right to Work initiative and union's retaliatory filing of five new ballot measures on March 31, 2008 (Initiatives 92, 93, 94, 95, and 96), generally categorized as "anti-business."
Some of the reactions:
What started as a schoolyard fight between trade unions and business in Colorado has escalated into a political arms race reminiscent of the "mutually assured destruction" of the Cold War.
We join Gov. Bill Ritter in urging both business and labor to scrap the measures they're preparing for the November ballot and get back to doing what they do best: working together to build a better Colorado.
—Denver Post editorial,
April 2, 2008
I am very concerned about the looming ballot initiative battle between certain business and labor groups. I know that reasonable business leaders do not want a labor-business meltdown. I also know that union leaders want to avert prolonged strife. The best course of action may simply be for both sides to withdraw their initiatives. I urge both sides to take a "time out" and try to resolve their differences.
—U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar (D)
in a statement April 3, 2008
Colorado's economy right now is in a somewhat precarious place. Having a ballot-box confrontation like this is not conducive.
—Gov. Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer,
April 3, 2008
But both sides seem to be pressing forward with their competing initiatives, despite efforts by Gov. Bill Ritter and others to discourage them.
"We are staying focused on collecting the signatures, getting it on the ballot and winning the campaign in November," said Kelley Harp, campaign spokesman for the group pushing the Right to Work initiative, which would requirements that workers pay for union representation. "I'm not aware of any negotiations (with the governor's office) at this point," he said.
The campaign reports that it expects to collect more than enough signatures by the April 10, 2008, deadline.
Fraud complaint filed against Right to Work petitioners
An attorney representing labor unions on two proposed ballot initiatives filed a complaint with Secretary of State Mike Coffman on April 4, 2008, claiming that at least two petition circulators for the Right to Work initiative told signers that they didn't need to be registered voters in order to sign the petition.
When filing his complaint, Mark Grueskin provided Coffman with an audio disc of petitioners telling signers they didn't need to be registered voters and that they could sign more than once. It is illegal for circulators to sign petition affidavits without knowing or reasonably believing the statements made in the document are true. Coffman's office is looking into the allegations.
Chamber of Commerce challenge to ballot language denied
The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce appealed the language of several initiatives (Initiative 73, 75, and 76) on April 2, 2008, before the Title Board, arguing that the initiatives did not constitute single subjects and would hurt Colorado businesses and trigger baseless lawsuits.
The Title Board approved some minor rewording of the ballot language but refused to invalidate any of the proposals. The proposals, if approved, would enable any Colorado resident to sue Colorado business executives who failed to stop or report corporate crimes and would prohibit employers from firing employees without documenting just cause.
Backers of the measure will still need to collect 76,047 signatures to get the initiative on the November ballot.
Union retaliates with five new ballot measures
A ballot measure to require annual cost of living increases for all employees in Colorado—along with four others—were filed March 31, 2008, by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 7. Union leaders acknowledge that the five measures were filed as a counter-attack in retaliation against the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry's recent endorsement of the Right to Work Initiative (Initiative 41), which would prohibit union costs from being deducted from the paychecks of employees who choose not to join the union.
Political observers see these measures as further setting the stage for "a fiery showdown between business and labor in November."
- Denver Business Journal: "Battle raging again with dueling Colorado ballot initiatives," April 24, 2008
- Examiner: "Affirmative action backers challenge ballot proposal," April 24, 2008 (dead link)
- Durango Herald: "State Senate raises bar for ballot initiatives," April 22, 2008 (dead link)
- Durango Herald: "Panel: Make it tougher to amend constitution," April 10, 2008
- Rocky Mountain News: "Romanoff wants to take on TABOR," April 25, 2008
- Denver Post: "State fiscal plan simple but bold," April 15, 2008
- Durango Herald: "Roberts backs proposal to change TABOR," April 18, 2008 (dead link)
- Denver Post: "GOP tries new tack to overturn mill-levy freeze," April 15, 2008
- The Tirbune: "GOP measure would bar plea deals that block deportation," April 15, 2008
- Denver Post: "Ritter wants to keep Peace," April 15, 2008
- Denver Post: "Right-to-work petitions delivered," April 9, 2008
- Rocky Mountain News: "Complaint alleges campaign finance abuses," April 9, 2008
- Denver Post: "Closed-door confab seeks labor-business truce," April 8, 2008
- Denver Business Journal: "Right-to-work meeting cloaked in secrecy," April 8, 2008
- Rocky Mountain News: "Ritter urges labor cease-fire," April 7, 2008
- Rocky Mountain News: "Stakes are sky-high in showdown over right-to-work issue," April 5, 2008
- Rocky Mountain News: "Business, labor hope to avoid ballot clash," April 5, 2008
- KRDO-TV: "Lawmakers delay vote on voter initiative changes," April 7, 2008
- Denver Post: Editorial: "Labor, business need to cool off," April 2, 2008
- Denver Post: "Salazar gets to work on labor, business deal," April 4, 2008
- Rocky Mountain News: "Ritter's pleas on ballot issues go unheeded," April 3, 2008
- Rocky Mountain News: "Ritter's pleas on ballot issues go unheeded," April 3, 2008
- Denver Business Journal: "Complaint filed over right-to-work ballot measure," April 4, 2008
- KJCT-TV: "Business group to appeal initiative targeting CEOs," April 2, 2008
- Denver Post: "Union group backs ballot initiatives," April 1, 2008