Companies are not currently required to label foods with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Proposition 105, which is on the ballot this November, would change all that./Photo by Jennaye Derge

2014 ballot cheat sheet

Demystifying this year’s ballot measures
by Missy Votel
Nothing says snoozefest like mid-term elections. The off-years are notorious for low voter turnout and high junk mail burnout.
However, with a new mail-in ballot system making it possible to vote in your jammies from the comfort of your own couch – provided you’re willing to walk to the mailbox when done – exercising your democratic right has never been easier.

And while most of this year’s public office races are straightforward enough to vote along whichever party lines you lean toward, there are four statewide ballot measures that are not so cut and dry.

From horsetrack gambling and education to GMOs, personhood and open meetings, voters have been bombarded with information on this year’s measures. Fortunately, once again, the Telegraph has done its homework. In an effort to make sense of the mailers, robocalls and little blue book, we have done our best to decode the mumbo jumbo, distill the pros and cons, and even add our two cents.

Amendment 67:
Definition of “Personhood”

Background: If approved, this amendment to the State Constitution would include unborn humans under the definition of “person” in the Colorado criminal code. Also known as the “Brady Project,” the measure is named after an unborn child whose mother was in a car accident with a drunk driver in 2012 that resulted in the loss of the fetus. The drunk driver responsible for the accident pleaded guilty to vehicular assault and driving under the influence, both misdemeanors under Colorado law at that time, and received a light sentence.

This is the third time Personhood Colorado has attempted to pass a “personhood amendment.” Previous attempts in 2008 and 2010 failed by wide margins.

Those in favor say: If passed, this amendment would treat deaths of unborn fetuses as “wrongful deaths,” punishable under law. Personhood Colorado said the latest effort differs from those of the past in that it focuses on Criminal statutes rather than all areas of law. “This will be the first time that an amendment of this nature will be on the ballot in Colorado,” Jennifer Mason, a spokeswoman for Personhood Colorado, said. “This is a very different take on a sort of personhood amendment.”

Those against say:  Major opponents, including the “No Personhood Issue Committee” and Planned Parenthood, argue this initiative is a thinly veiled attempt by Personhood Colorado to ban abortion.

According to the “Vote No on 67” campaign, the amendment uses misleading and vague wording that could have far-reaching consequences. For example, under the measure, the term “person” would apply to a woman’s fertilized egg. As such, abortion would become a crime under the amendment, as would most birth control options, including the pill, IUDs and morning-after pills. Theoretically, it could also restrict in-vitro fertilization for infertile couples.

Perhaps most importantly, the amendment is unnecessary. In the wake of the accident that was the impetus for the amendment, the state has since passed the “Unlawful Termination of Pregnancy Act.” The purpose of the law is “to provide an appropriate civil remedy to a woman who suffers an unlawful termination of her pregnancy.” This law plainly states that no rights can be conferred “upon a human being at any time prior to birth.”
Our two cents: It seems as if Personhood Colorado is using a tragic accident to capitalize on its long-running attempt at furthering its anti-choice agenda. Even more deceptive is that they are framing the amendment as providing protection to pregnant women – protection that is already provided through the Crimes Against Pregnant Women Act.

Amendment 67 would strip women of their rights, plain and simple. Not much more can be said that hasn’t already been said in the 40-plus years that abortion has been legal in this country. Let’s keep it that way. Vote NO on amendment 67.

Amendment 68:
Horse Racetrack Casino Gambling

Background: If approved, this amendment would permit casino gambling (slot machines, poker, blackjack, craps and roulette) at horse racetracks in Arapahoe, Mesa and Pueblo counties, limited to one racetrack in each county. Tax revenue from the casino gambling would go to K-12 public schools and charter schools authorized by the Colorado Charter School Institute.

Those in favor say: Amendment 68 provides additional money for public schools (about $114 million annually, or an estimated additional $132/student in 2016-17) without raising taxes. The measure will also create jobs and boost local economies.
Supporters at the “Yes on 68: Coloradans for Better Schools” campaign say the amendment is a “citizens” initiative that will reduce class size, improve facilities, pay for new technology and increase safety at schools. Endorsements include the Colorado Horseracing Association, Rocky Mountain Quarter Horse Association and Colorado Thoroughbred Breeders Association.

Those against say: The measure would hurt existing gaming communities in Cripple Creek , Central City and Black Hawk as well as the state’s Limited Gaming Fund, which supports historic preservation, community colleges and economic development, among other things.
Furthermore, Amendment 68 would take away local voters’ constitutional rights to approve such gaming in their communities, as was passed in 1992. Also, large casinos can take a toll on surrounding communities, including increased traffic, law enforcement, court services and road maintenance. The “No on 68” campaign calls it a “Trojan horse,” alleging the amendment was written by a Rhode Island casino owner scheming to “line his pockets” at the expense of Coloradans. Those in opposition include the Colorado Municipal League and Colorado Counties, Inc. as well as several cultural and historic preservation groups.

Our two cents: Kind of like a horse racetrack, the more we dug into this issue, the more it stunk – from the creepily slick website to the generic Englewood P.O. box listed for correspondence. We also found it curious that it was touted as a “citizens” initiative without specifying which state those citizens were from. Like a sleazy Vegas lounge act, it’s probably best to pass this one by. Vote NO on Amendment 68.

Prop 104: School Board ?Meeting Requirements

Background: If approved, this amendment would require local school boards and their representatives to hold collective bargaining and employee contract negotiations at meetings open to the public. Current law requires school districts post completed collective bargaining agreements online. However, negotiations to arrive at these agreements are largely done in private.

Those in favor say: Open meetings 4 and transparency are basic principles of good government and this measure upholds the public’s right to be informed of government spending. The initiative was the brainchild of Jon Caldara and Mike Krause, of Denver’s libertarian-conservative think tank, the Independence Institute.  

Those against say: The measure removes school boards’ flexibility. Labor negotiations can be messy and if boards are required to have these discussions in public, they will be forced to reveal their strategy too early in the process.

Prop 104 opponent, “Local Schools, Local Choices” – made up of educators, superintendents and other education advocates – allege it is a one-size-fits-all policy that could lead to unintended consequences, such as more legal fees for districts and a logistical nightmare. It also strips away local control, and rural districts in particular don’t need another mandate from a Denver special interest group, which has not disclosed who is funding the initiative.

Our two cents: Although we are curious about the motives behind the initiative, on face value open and accountable government is a good thing. But will it be too much of a good thing? We doubt it, as some districts in the state already choose to conduct collective bargaining in public. And while it is not our place to question those who would want to sit in on such negotiations (slightly more exciting than watching paint dry, we would guess) it is our place, as taxpayers, to ask where our money is being spent. Vote YES on Prop 104.

Proposition 105: Labeling of ?genetically modified food

Background: This measure would require any “prepackaged, processed food or raw agricultural commodity that has been produced using genetic modification” to include the label: “Produced with genetic engineering.” Numerous exceptions would exist, including food and drink for animals, alcoholic beverages, prepared foods intended for immediate consumption, restaurant items and animal-derived foods such as milk, meat and honey. If approved, the law would go into effect by Jan. 1, 2016.

Labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has been a growing issue at the state and local level. A petition to the Food and Drug Administration asking it to label GMOs had more than a million signatures, the most of any petition the agency has ever seen. Although similar labeling measures recently failed in California and Washington, GMO labeling laws are pending in 29 states, including a similar initiative on the ballot in Oregon. Worldwide, 64 countries require GMO labeling, including all the countries in the European Union, Australia, China and India.
 In 2014, Vermont became the first state in the country to require GMO labeling. Maine and Connecticut also passed labeling measures, but those will not take effect until neighboring states also adopt such measures.

Those in favor say: According to arguments made by the Colorado Right to Know group, labeling genetically engineered foods would provide basic information to let Coloradans make informed food-buying decisions. They argue, GMOs are not very well studied in humans and have been implicated in immune disorders and allergies. Proper labeling would allow doctors to better determine where food allergies and sensitivities arise. Furthermore, any federal mandate seems unlikely, so states must take the issue into their own hands.

The issue is not whether GMOs are inherently good or bad, but whether Coloradans have the right to know what is in their food.
Supporters include the Sierra Club and Alliance for Sustainable Colorado as well as such well-known Colorado businesses as Dr. Bronner’s, Natural Grocer’s, Annie’s, Whole Foods and burrito giant, Chipotle. Durango Natural Foods is also a supporter.

Those against say: According to the “No on 105” campaign, the law would mandate complex new food labeling regulations, unfairly hurt farmers, cost Colorado taxpayers millions and increase grocery costs for families by hundreds of dollars per year.

Furthermore, because of exemptions, it would not give consumers reliable information about which foods actually contain GMOs. Rather, these exempt foods will appear as though they do not contain GMOs, which may mislead rather than inform. Also, it would send the message that GMO foods are unsafe, even though no scientific evidence shows they are any riskier than other foods.

The labeling requirements will increase costs for record-keeping, product verification, and separate product storage and handling, which may be particularly burdensome for small businesses and farmers’ markets. The measure would also conflict with existing voluntary labeling on non-genetically engineered and organic foods.

Opponents include numerous state farm organizations, including the Colorado Farm Bureau and the Colorado Cattleman’s Association, and Club 20.
Our two cents: According to an independent study by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy branch of Consumer Reports, the extra expense for labeling genetically modified ingredients would equate to about $2.30 per consumer, per year. When you compare this to the nearly $10 million that’s been spent fighting this initiative, it begs the question why they just couldn’t have spent that money on GMO labeling in the first place (with maybe even some money left over to go to Disneyland?) And if GMOS truly are as harmless as Big Ag says, then why the Big Fight?
Yes, the proposition is less than ideal, and it does leave a few loopholes, which will hopefully be closed with future laws. But those holes are nothing compared to the holes in the anti-labeling argument (some of which are actually quite laughable.)
People deserve to know what’s in the food they’re buying off the grocery store shelves. Vote YES on Prop 105.

In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows