Today we had a guest speaker from the League of Women Voters to cover some of the important issues in the upcoming mid term elections. She, first explained that the League of Women Voters is a non-partisan group working to stay neutral and have been doing state issues and ballot presentations since 1936. They want to educate the public on the current issues, so that people can make an educate choices when going to the polls. She discussed with us the difference between a Referendum and an Initiative – a Referendum is referred to the ballot by the legislature for a vote by the people and an Initiative is brought to the ballot through a petition by the people who collect signatures (it has to be 5% of the total number of votes cast for the Secretary of State in the last general election) that have to be verified as registered voters before being placed on the ballot. Both a Referendum and an Initiative can change laws or the state constitution if passed by a vote of the people. Voting requirements as they stand now require you to show one of the following documents at your polling place, valid Colorado driver’s license or ID card, valid US passport or Military ID, FAA photo pilot’s license, certified naturalization documents, valid Medicare or Medicaid card, Certified copy of your birth certificate, Valid Student ID or a copy of your latest utility bill, paycheck or government check with the current name and address on it.
In Colorado in this mid term election period we have 3 Referenda to be voted on. The first is Amendment P– which is a referred amendment to Section 2, Article XVII of the Colorado Constitution concerning the regulation of games of chance. The major provisions in this referendum are that they want to transfer the licensing of games of chance, such as bingo and fund raising raffles, from the Department of State to the Department of Revenue. This will also allow the state legislature to change the department of oversight and will also allow the state legislature to change the current minimum period of an organization or corporation that has been in existence with a dues paying membership to qualify for a license. The current law in place states that certain non-profit charitable organizations are allowed to use bingo and raffles to raise money. This has been in place since 1958 and places the Department of State in charge of regulating these games by issuing licenses, collecting fees, conducting inspections and imposing penalties. The Department of Revenue currently regulates casino gambling and the Colorado lottery, dispensing licenses, collecting fees and fines – this amendment would place all gaming under the Department of Revenue. Those in favor state the Department of Revenue regulates most games of chance in Colorado, they already have the established framework in place to monitor all such activities and will consolidate these activities to one department thus making it more efficient. Those opposed state that the Department of State has been running these games of chance for over 50 years and has managed it efficiently for all that time, and also it would cost the state a one time cost of $116,000 to move the bingo and raffles to the Department of Revenue and this cost will be taken out of the revenue of the bingos and raffles, thus decreasing the amount that can be used for the nonprofits charitable programs. The second is Amendment Q – this is a referred amendment to Section 3, Article VIII of the Colorado Constitution establishing a process for moving the seat of government in the case of a disaster emergency and allows the governor to declare a disaster emergency, creates a process for declaring such an emergency – including a date for when the temporary location of the government expires, a definition of disaster emergency “as the occurrence or imminent threat of widespread or severe damage, defining the “state seat of government” as the location of the Colorado legislative, executive and judicial branch. This amendment does not change the current process required to permanently move the state seat. The current Colorado Constitution designates Denver as the state seat of government and currently is prohibited from moving the state seat of government out of Denver unless it is approved at a general election by two-thirds vote of the people. This amendment would allow the government officials to respond to a declared disaster without requiring a statewide vote of the people. Those opposed state that the government already have the power to address a declared disaster emergency and that this proposal is unnecessary. The last of the amendments is Amendment R– a referred amendment to Section 3, Article X of the Colorado Constitution, eliminating property taxes for an individual or business who receives a benefit of $6000 or less from using government owned property and adjusts the threshold for the exemption for inflation. Currently if the government allows a private individual or business to use property to make money: the value of the lease, permits, licenses or other agreements to use the public property is subject to property tax as a possessory interest. Examples of these companies are ski areas, airports, rafting companies and ranchers (grazing their cattle on public land), many which pay significant property tax to use that land. Most of the possessory interests are leases of agricultural land with an average value of only $51.00, which generates a tax of around $1.00, depending on local rates. This amendment would starting in 2012 – those agricultural leases and possessory interests that have a market value of $6000.00 or less would be exempted from Colorado property tax and that threshold would be increased every two years to account for inflation. Those in favor state that this would reduce the billing costs for enforcing the tax collection which can often exceed the tax collected. Those against state that this amendment undermines the Colorado Constitution’s requirement that taxes be uniformly charged for all taxpayers and would unfairly benefit some users of public lands and waterways. There are six initiatives for this mid term election. The first is Amendment 60 on Property Taxes – an initiated amendment to Section 20, Article X of the Colorado Constitution. Currently, individuals, and businesses pay property taxes of the value of their land, buildings, home and business equipment. This money goes to the counties, cities, schools and special districts, with schools and counties receiving the most money. At this time, yearly property tax collections by local governments are limited by the Colorado Constitution. Voter approval is required to increase property tax rates or to retain revenue beyond constitutional limits. These monies pay for police and fire departments, roads, water systems, parks, libraries and hospitals, most schools receive about 37% of property taxes, although some districts get up to 77%. Currently, property owners may vote only on special district elections wherever they own property regardless of their primary residence. Those in favor of this proposal states that it will allow citizens to petition to lower property taxes. It will prevent taxation by non-elected boards – such as the Denver Water Board, and would end specific property taxes that violate state voter approval laws. It will tax government owned properties to broaden the tax base and reduce government competition with private businesses. This proposal lowers property taxes by phasing out part of the school property taxes over 10 years and replaced with state aid. Those opposed state that this proposal would have a devastating impact on our schools, libraries, police and fire departments. All local governments will see a reduction in property tax revenues causing an increase in rates paid by hunters and anglers for licenses, increased tuition for higher education, and increased rates for water and waste services. Next is Amendment 61 on Limiting State and Local Borrowing – another initiated amendment to Section 3, Article XI to the Colorado Constitution, which will control the amount and length of debt any local and state entity can incur. Colorado’s original constitution held that the state should be held debt free and shall not contract any debt by a loan in any form. Through the advent of cars and expansion of industry created a need for roads, bridges and schools, with that many other government services. Creating a need for the bonded debt that has become the option for financing many of our current long term capital projects. The major provisions for this bill, bans the state from incurring any debt by loans in any form, becoming a pay as you go program. Allows local districts, enterprises and authorities to borrow only after voter approval in a November election, the bonded debt must be limited to a ten year repayment plan and cannot exceed 10% of the assessed taxable value of real property in the jurisdiction. This proposal also requires that all current debt be repaid by its original due date and the taxes must be reduced by the amount of the payments. Those in favor of this amendment state that this would encourage fiscal restraint by re-instituting the pay as you go spending plan and will reduce the tax burden on our children. This amendment also leaves open the option for local governments to ask their voters when they have a project that they feel needs to be financed. Current economic problems have been caused by excessive debt and too much borrowing. Those opposed state that this proposal will eliminate Colorado’s ability to build or expand any of its capital infrastructures until they can be paid for in cash and will collapse our economy by creating loss of public and private sector jobs and drive investments elsewhere. The next is Amendment 62– Application of the Definition of Person or the Personhood Amendment, an initiated amendment to Article II of the Colorado Constitution adding a new section defining the term “person” to include every human being from the beginning of biological development of that human being. This new section will be used in the definition of person in sections 3, 6 and 25 in Article 25. The Colorado Constitution already guarantees a person inalienable right, equality of justice and due process of laws. Section 3 grants inalienable right to all persons, the right to live, to be happy, to be free, to own property and to be safe. The major new provision of this law defines a person as a human being from the beginning of the biological development. This amendment makes the definition of “person” applicable to the sections of the Colorado Constitution that relate to protecting the rights of all people in the following ways: ensures full rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, allows full access the courts and protects a by ensuring due process of law. However this amendment does not define “biological development”. Those in favor speak to the definition of a human being as being a person from the time of biological development and that this measure could establish a legal foundation to the end of the practice of abortion in the state of Colorado. Also the term “person” is not currently defined in the Colorado Constitution and this would be a start to rights and laws being more consistently applied to the born and unborn. Those apposed to this amendment state that it could limit a woman’s right to healthcare options including: prohibiting abortions – even in cases of incest or rape and in cases when the mother’s life is threatened. It also could limit a women’s access to emergency contraception or other forms of commonly used birth control. This amendment may also restrict treatment for miscarriages, tubal pregnancies, infertility and some stem cell research. This amendment would also impact literally thousands of laws and clog our courts with a variety of lawsuits from property right to inheritance issues. Next is Amendment 63– which is an initiated amendment to Article II of our Colorado Constitution which will add a new section prohibiting the state to require a person to participate in a public or private health insurance plan. This would make it possible for Colorado to opt out of the National Healthcare Plan. The major provisions of this amendment are: Keeping health care choice a constitutional right and forbids the state from adopting or enforcing any policies that will require any person to join a health insurance program and preserves one’s right to pay the doctor or healthcare provider directly for any services. This will also prohibit state tax dollars from being used to enforce any law the will force a person to join a health plan. Those in favor of this amendment state that this will allow each person to make their own decisions regarding their healthcare to the individual and preserves voluntary participation. It would also retain the fee for service, if this is deemed unconstitutional many people would be unable to get the health care services they do need. If the new federal heath care law is declared unconstitutional, our federal government will pressure states to pass laws that will limit your health care choices and this proposal would help our state officials resist the federal government demands. Those opposed state that this proposal is misleading voters into thinking that they can avoid participating in the federal program, however a state constitutional amendment cannot supersede a federal law and if passed this initiative it will certainly wind up in federal court. As well, the federal health care plan provides exemptions for those who have financial hardships and for those who carry religious beliefs against receiving heath care. The one statutory initiative on the Colorado ballot is Proposition 101– on Income, Vehicle and Telecommunication Taxes/Fees, an initiated amendment to the revised Colorado Revised Statutes, Title 39, Article 25 concerning limits on government fees. The major provisions that this amendment will bring into effect are reducing and/or eliminating, in the next four years, taxes and fees on the purchase, lease, rental and registration of vehicles. Reducing the ownership tax to $2.00 to new vehicles and $1.00 to used vehicles, the total for registration, license and title charges shall total $10.00 per year. This will reduce the Colorado State income tax from 4.63% to 4.5% in 2011 and will eventually down to 3.5%. It will redefine vehicle and telecommunication fess as taxes and in the future will require voter approval to increase these fees in the future. It will also eliminate fees/taxes on telecommunication services except for the 911 fees, which will be frozen at the 2009 rates. Those in favor of this initiative state that it would remove the recently doubled registration fees that were added on without voter approval and reduce the vehicle sale tax and ownership taxes over the next four years. Our government is losing millions a year through subsidizing phone service for ineligible welfare recipients and this would reign that in. Also, except for 911, this proposal would end all of the other taxes and fees on your phone, cable and internet services. Those opposed say that a quarter of the state’s revenue from income tax would be eliminated at a time when the state budget is reduced by the recession. Funding for services including roads and schools would be impacted with no regard for the actual cost. The strength of both state and local government would be undermined by slashing revenue. It will reduce the transportation budget by millions of dollars and threaten the maintenance and repair of the current transportation system. Our last on this year’s ballot is Proposition 102– Criteria for Setting Bail and Type of Bond. As the rule stand now, an individual who has been arrested for a crime is guaranteed by the constitution the right to reasonable bail. The court sets the amount of bail that the accused must pay to be released from jail. Then if the accused fails to appear in court that bail is forfeited to the court. A defendant may also be released on a personal recognizance bond – or the promise that they will return to court for trial. The bail is generally based on the courts determination on the defendant’s risk to the community and the likelihood the accused will return for trial. The failure to comply for the accused is returning to jail or a warrant for arrest. The major provision of this initiative is it would prohibit the release of a defendant to supervision by a pretrial service program unless the charge is a first offense and a nonviolent misdemeanor. Those in favor of Initiative 102 claim that defendants who receive only pretrial services without paying a secured bond are more likely to skip future court dates and by requiring a bond provides a financial incentive to appear for their court dates. Also with the private sector bail sector will ensure that the defendant will appear in court with out a cost to the taxpayers. Those opposed to Initiative 102 state that if passed it will leave those defendants who cannot afford a secured bond waiting in jail until their court date. This will place more defendants in jail pending trial instead in pre-trial services program and thus increasing the cost to taxpayer.
The last item our speaker wanted to mention was the judges section on the ballot – please don’t vote for judges without investigating them. The Voter Blue Book states that we should retain all of the current judges, but realize that these recommendations come from attorneys – so it wouldn’t hurt to do some searching on your own to find out the real motivations for each of the judges recommended for retention.