Failed amendments invoke mixed reactions

At a glance

Failed:

Amendment 46: Government and Colorado Northwestern Community College officials could not consider affirmative action in hiring or student admissions.

Amendment 49: Government employers would be limited in what payroll deductions they are allowed to take from employees. Could have affected the Moffat County Education Association, which collects voluntary dues through payroll.

Amendment 51: Would have increased state sales tax by 0.1 percent in 2009 and 2010 to fund long-term services for people with developmental disabilities. Could have increased funding for Horizons Specialized Services.

Referendum L: Would have reduced the age requirement for legislators from 25 to 21.

Passed:

Referendum M: No local affect, as local Assessor's Offices do not use the tax codes repealed.

Referendum N: No local affect, as alcohol prohibition is no longer part of state or federal law.

Although Moffat County is a community relatively isolated from the rest of Colorado, local residents held strong beliefs on statewide ballot questions in the Nov. 4 general election.

Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers said he didn't support any ballot questions this year, except one to make it harder to put ballot questions on the ballot.

Others in the community have differing views.

Amendment 47, named by some as the "right to work" amendment, would have changed the Colorado Constitution to make it illegal to require someone to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

It failed 55.5 percent to 45.5 percent.

Proponents billed the unsuccessful measure as a freedom issue, that workers should not be required to pay money to any organization.

"We all strongly feel that freedom is our greatest asset in this country, and we continue to believe that Amendment 47 was a principled measure grown from our appreciation of individual liberty," said Kelley Harp, spokesman for the Yes on Amendment 47 campaign.

Others said Amendment 47 would weaken unions' ability to represent workers, as they are required by federal law to represent all employees.

Unions still are necessary, said Michele Conroy, co-president of the Moffat County Education Association. Her group has a completely voluntary membership and would not have been directly affected if Amendment 47 passed.

"In today's changing market : unions are able to represent employee rights, employee salaries, employee benefits," she said. "Without unions, we wouldn't be where we are today."

Conroy mentioned the 40-hour workweek, health care and retirement plans as benefits unions struggled to grant workers.

"The list goes on and on, and everyone who lives in the United States can thank a union for that," she said.

Moral laws

Other constitutional amendments on the ballot dealt with social issues, such as abortion rights in the case of Amendment 48.

Known as the "personhood amendment," this would have changed the state Constitution to recognize all fetuses from the moment of conception as persons under the law. This would grant fetuses from zero to nine months the same rights as any other person, including due process.

Many perceived Amendment 48 to be a stepping-stone to providing criminal penalties for women who receive an abortion and abortion providers.

It failed by a wide margin statewide, 73 to 27 percent, and also failed in Moffat County by a 2-to-1 vote.

Debbie Rudd, executive director for the Yampa Valley Pregnancy Center, said she supported the measure and was disappointed it failed by so much.

Rudd, who said she is a "pro-life" advocate, was happy the state might take a stand against selective abortion.

"I was kind of excited that it would define the unborn baby as a person," she said. "It is a person."

Rudd added she could understand some people might have seen the amendment as too open-ended, such as the possibility it might require a woman whose life was endangered by the pregnancy to go forward with the birth.

Some people might have thought Amendment 48 went too far, Rudd said.

"As far as the case of abortions in the cases of rape or incest, I relate that to a murder where a man shoots someone and kills them," she said. "Do we then go put his child on trial because the father was a criminal?"

Rudd said she knows people who were born after a rape, and they are glad to be alive.

"Their families are glad they are alive, too," she added. "Just because the rapist is a criminal, that doesn't mean we have to kill the child."

Cole White, Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association director of operations, said he identifies with Rudd's principles.

"I am personally a right to life individual," he said. "But, as a member of society, I am pro-choice. I myself am not going to interfere with a woman's right to choose what she thinks is best for her own health."

White added he would like to see a common-sense approach to the issue from legislators at the state and national level. For instance, if a man punches a pregnant woman in the stomach and causes a miscarriage, he may be charged with assault, but not murder.

"When, in fact, it is murder," White said.

It's possible that may have been part of the intent with Amendment 48, but the public didn't perceive it that way, White said.

Financials

Amendments 52 and 58 could have had serious, negative consequences for Northwest Colorado, Mathers said.

Both failed, Amendment 52 by about a 30 percent margin, and Amendment 58 by about 20 percent.

"I'm tickled to death they went down," the county commissioner added.

Both would have affected the county's share and access to severance tax revenue, which is paid entirely by energy developers. Counties receive the money either directly or through grants given out by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

Amendment 58 would have raised severance tax rates on energy companies, which Commission members have said could overburden the industry in conjunction with new, stricter drilling regulations created earlier this year.

It also would have restructured the way severance taxes are split up and would have reduced the local communities' share from 50 percent to 22 percent. Supporters argued the increase in tax revenue would have more than offset the decrease in percentage take.

However, Mathers said there is no guarantee energy companies will continue to work in Colorado if the current political climate doesn't change.

Amendment 58 "wouldn't have affected us this year, but I think it would've ended up putting DOLA out of reach," Mathers said. "Because of DOLA, we've got our Road and Bridge equipment replaced and up to where it needs to be.

"We need their help with taking care of our roads, too. Without DOLA, we might have had to turn a lot of these roads out into the county back to gravel because it costs too much to keep them up."

Although Amendment 52 would have designated severance tax money for transportation, seen by many state officials as Colorado's foremost need, the money would have been earmarked for Interstate 70 before projects in other areas, such as state Highway 13 running through Moffat County.

Changing the process

Of the 14 ballot issues that went before voters this week, the only one Mathers said he supported was an amendment to make it harder to pass constitutional amendments.

This also failed.

Referendum O would have made it more difficult to put constitutional amendments on election ballots but would have made it easier for citizens to bring statutory amendments to a statewide vote.

Mathers wasn't alone in his thinking. Club 20, a Western Slope lobby group, also refused to support any ballot question besides Referendum O.

Club 20 Executive Director Reeves Brown had said Colorado is too often used as a "petri dish" for special interests to test out their agendas. The Colorado Constitution is so cluttered with poorly thought out amendments that it has been changed more than any other constitution in America, he said.

Referendum "O probably should have passed," Mathers said. "Right now, if somebody from California wanted to change the law here, all they'd have to do is collect some signatures at the mall in Denver and get it on the ballot. At least (with O), they'd have to visit other counties."

Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or cesmith@craigdailypress.com

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