Voters could decide as many as a dozen ballot measures this fall, ranging from whether to allow grocery stores to sell beer and wine, whether local governments can ban fracking, and at least one measure that would force those who collect petition signatures to get them from all over Colorado, not just along the Front Range.
You can be forgiven if you thought the question of selling beer in grocery stores was settled just a few weeks ago.
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a law on June 10 that will gradually allow grocery stores to sell full-strength beer and wine, albeit over a 20-year transition period. The law contains protections for liquor store owners in rural areas, requiring grocery stores to buy out a liquor store’s license if the two businesses are within 3,000 feet of each other and the grocery store wants to sell full strength beer and wine. This rule applies to communities with populations of 10,000 or less.
But that doesn’t satisfy the state’s largest grocery store chains, King Soopers and Safeway. They’re working to change the state’s Prohibition-era restriction on grocery store sales of full-strength beer and wine sales faster, through a ballot measure that is currently out for petition signatures. If approved, it would go into effect next year.
The initiative, known as #104, would allow the sale of full-strength beer and wine in any “food store” of at least 3,000 square feet in size and which has at least 20 percent of its sales from food. The measure seeks to change state statutes, not the state constitution. It does not have provisions to protect small business liquor stores in rural communities.
Supporters of an effort to raise the state’s minimum wage will try to persuade voters to change the state constitution in a ballot measure known as initiative #101.
Under the measure, which is backed by Colorado Families for a Fair Wage, the current minimum wage of $8.31 per hour would be raised to $9.30 per hour, beginning January 1, 2017, and increased annually by $.90 per hour until it reaches $12 per hour in 2020. It would be adjusted upward for inflation every year thereafter.
The minimum wage measure also impacts those who receive tips, saying that no more than $3.02 per hour in tips can be used to offset the minimum wage.
Supporters include several unions, faith-based organizations and progressive community groups. The sponsors have already raised more than $750,000 to get the measure onto the ballot and persuade voters to support it.
Tony Gagliardi, who heads the Colorado chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), wrote in an editorial last spring for the Colorado Springs Gazette that hiking the minimum wage would not help the working poor, since only about three percent of Coloradans actually earn the minimum wage, and that most minimum wage earners are young people between the ages of 16 and 24, and gaining experience in their first jobs.
That’s countered by Rich Jones of the Bell Policy Center, who calls such assumptions an “outdated stereotype.” The vast majority — 80 percent — of minimum wage workers are over the age of 20, he said in a statement. About one-third are at least 40 years old and almost half have a college degree or at least some college experience, he said.
“Even though the minimum wage was created to help keep working families out of poverty, it hasn’t kept up with Colorado’s skyrocketing cost of living, leading to families forced to rely on public assistance and a less robust economy,” said Jones.
Two ballot measures intend to put the brakes on fracking. Initiative #75, which is constitutional, would allow local governments to adopt laws or regulations concerning oil and gas development. Such regulations could prohibit or ban oil and gas development and could be more restrictive than what is already in state law.
The measure would in effect overturn a state Supreme Court decision made this spring, which struck down bans on fracking enacted by a handful of Front Range communities on the grounds that they were unconstitutional.
The second measure, known as initiative #78, would establish a minimum distance of 2,500 feet between fracking rigs and structures such as homes, schools and hospitals.
And those two ballot measure may have ties to another: Initiative #96 would ask voters to approve a change to the state constitution that deals with how constitutional amendments are added by petition.
It’s referred to as “Raise the Bar,” and it’s backed by local Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling and former lawmaker Greg Brophy of Wray.
The ballot measure, which is currently being circulated for petition signatures, would require those who want to change the state constitution to collect signatures from residents in all 35 of Colorado’s state senate districts.
In 2016, proposals require 98,492 signatures to get on the ballot. Most petition gatherers focus their efforts on the population-dense Front Range, from Fort Collins to Pueblo, because it’s easier pickings to find signatures.
But collecting signatures from only Front Range residences predictably leaves out voters on the Western Slope and Eastern Plains.
Brophy told this reporter during the spring that the sponsors of Raise the Bar intend to walk the talk: They’re collecting signatures for their ballot proposal in all 35 senate districts.
The ballot measure has one more stipulation. Anyone wanting to change the state constitution would need more than just the standard 50-percent-plus-one-vote to do so: Initiative 96 sets a higher bar for changing the state constitution, by requiring a “yes” vote of at least 55 percent.
In the past decade, voters have been asked to decide on three dozen propositions to change the state constitution. Thirteen have won voter approval, with all but two clearing that 55 percent threshold. The two that didn’t get 55 percent: one raised the minimum wage in 2006; another barred certain government contractors from making campaign contributions to candidates or political parties.
Raise the Bar is being backed by a host of business interests, including Gary Williams Energy, which put $45,000 into the campaign in April. The Boulder Weekly reported recently that oil and gas companies are backing the proposal because it could effectively shut down efforts to ban fracking by environmental groups.
That’s part of the dig against Raise the Bar – and not just by the environmental community. Jon Caldara of the libertarian Independence Institute told this reporter that he opposes the measure because a statewide campaign would be too expensive for grassroots organizations to collect petition signatures. And if passed, the measure could create logistical headaches for the Secretary of State, who would have to figure out which signatures came from which senate districts.
All of the ballot measures are due back to the Secretary of State by August 8. Once received, the Secretary of State will verify whether the petitions have enough valid signatures and certify the ones that do for the ballot.
Photo credit: Kelsey Ray