School board open-meetings measure has best chance of passing

(photo/k. Bacongco/Flickr)

Four citizens’ initiatives landed on the statewide ballot this year, and they cover some hotly contested ground. From personhood definitions to food labeling, expanding gaming revenues and school-board transparency, the measures address some of the most divisive issues facing the state. And according to the most recent polls, only one has a solid chance of passing.

Amendment 67: Definition of Personhood Initiative

A hot-button topic in this year’s Senate race, the measure redefines the term “person” to include “unborn human beings” in the Colorado Criminal Code. Though similar personhood measures failed in 2008 and 2010, sponsoring group Personhood Colorado maintains that this bill goes beyond simply redefining “person” to include fetuses in all areas of law and protects pregnant mothers and unborn children by declaring that those involved in crimes that result in the miscarriage of a fetus can be charged with fetal homicide.

Since the definition would apply to all stages of pregnancy, opponents maintain that it’s a thinly disguised attempt to criminalize abortion, making pregnant women and medical practitioners criminally responsible for terminating pregnancies in all cases. It would also outlaw most common forms of birth control, according to detractors.

And 67 ¬†became a focal point in this year’s tight U.S. Senate race. Though Republican challenger Rep. Cory Gardner supported the 2010 initiative, he reversed course on 67 when announcing his bid to unseat Democrat Mark Udall this year. Udall’s campaign pounced on the about-face, making it a key rallying point in ads attacking Gardner in what has become one of the closest races in the nation.

Like its predecessors, Amendment 67 appears to face a similar uphill battle with voters. According to a recent poll by Public Policy Polling, 54 percent oppose the measure, while 37 percent approve and 9 percent are undecided.

Amendment 68: Horse Racetrack Limited Gaming Proceeds for K-12 Education

A measure that would expand education funding would seem an easy sell in any election. And on its face, that’s what Amendment 68 claims to do: establish a kindergarten-through-12th-grade education fund, financed through revenues generated by the expansion of limited gaming at horse racetracks in Arapahoe, Mesa and Pueblo counties.

Proponents say it would enable expansion of education funds without costing taxpayers a dime. Coloradans for Better Schools — the group behind the measure — projects an additional $100 million a year just from expanding gaming at the Arapahoe Park horse racetrack alone.<

But despite the fact that the measure claims to benefit Colorado’s schools, most educators aren’t supporting the measure. Opponents see it as a ruse to build a gaming monopoly on the Front Range rather than its purported goal of supporting Colorado schools. They say the chief beneficiary of the measure would be Mile-High USA Inc., which owns the Arapahoe Park racetrack and is a subsidiary of Rhode Island-based Twin Rivers Casino, the measure’s main backer.

Similar gaming measures have been defeated in recent years. A 2003 initiative to allow video lottery at specific horse and greyhound racetracks — with some proceeds going toward tourism promotion and open spaces — was soundly defeated, as was a 2010 referendum to transfer licensing of games of chance from the Department of State to the Department of Revenue.

This year’s initiative may be headed for the same fate: A recent Suffolk University Poll put opposition to the measure at 67 percent.

Proposition 104: Colorado School Board Open Meetings Initiative

Launched by the free-market think-tank the Independence Institute, the initiative would require that any meetings of the members of a school district’s board of education be made public when collective-bargaining negotiations or employment contract negotiations are taking place.

“Open meetings and transparency are basic principles of good government,” the Colorado legislature declared in a summary of the initiative. “This measure upholds the public’s right to be informed and provides additional public oversight of government spending.”

Although government-transparency measures would seem to have universal support, opponents — most notably a group called Local Schools, Local Choices — maintain that the measure would take away school boards’ freedom and flexibility to choose how to negotiate with employees. Further, they argue, the initiative may compromise the privacy of some employees during sensitive negotiations.<

This ballot initiative stands the greatest chance of passing among the four. The Suffolk poll puts approval at 63 percent, with 22 percent opposed and 14 percent undecided.

Proposition 105: Colorado Mandatory Labeling of GMOs

Scrutinizing food labels has become a daily habit for many Coloradans, whether they have children with food allergies, prefer organic products or have concerns about genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Prop 105 aims to address those concerns by requiring any prepackaged, processed food or raw agricultural commodity that has been genetically modified to include the label: “Produced with genetic engineering.”

Some huge players have entered the fray over GMOs. On the supporting side, Whole Foods, Chipotle and Hain Celestial Foods have publicly backed the measure, which they say will allow Coloradans to make more informed and healthy buying decisions, and help doctors and pediatricians treat food allergies and sensitivities in children.

But opponents have even bigger players on their side. Monsanto, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods and PepsiCo have donated more than $8 million to work against the measure, which they say will hurt Colorado farmers, increase grocery costs for families and ultimately cost taxpayers millions.

Similar labeling measures failed in California in 2012 and Washington in 2013. As of May 14, there were 84 bills in 29 states regarding the labeling of GMOs. In 2014, Vermont became the first state in the country to require labeling of GMOs. But it’s unlikely that Colorado will follow Vermont’s example, with polls showing 49 percent of voters opposing the measure and 30 percent supporting.