Animal cruelty ballot measure to get rehearing after challenges from ag industry

A proposed ballot measure would make many animal husbandry practices "sex acts," and ranchers say it would destroy Colorado's $5 billion livestock industry. (Photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Agriculture groups have mobilized to stop a proposed measure, which they say would devastate their industry, from getting on the ballot in November 2022.

The ballot measure, Initiative 16, was given a title and was approved after satisfying Colorado’s single subject rule for ballot measures by the state’s Title Board on March 17. Supporters would have been able to start collecting signatures Thursday, unless the decision of the board was challenged before then.

It was — twice.

Two motions for rehearing by the Title Board were received before the deadline — one submitted by 18 people with addresses in Southwest Colorado and another submitted by heads of six Colorado agriculture organizations.

“We’ve come together to oppose one of the most radical and reactionary ballot initiative proposals this state has ever seen,” said Carlyle Currier, president of Colorado Farm Bureau, in a statement. “We can’t allow such a direct and brazen attack on one of the state’s largest and most historic industries to go unanswered.”

The initiative would reclassify many common animal husbandry practices used while raising livestock as “sex acts” and would require an animal to live at least a quarter of its life before being slaughtered. For cattle, that would be 5 years, where now they are generally slaughtered at 2 years, adding to the expense of raising the animal and lowering the quality of the meat.

Ranchers say the ballot measure would cripple their industry in Colorado, forcing much of the $5 billion industry to leave the state.

The Title Board is made up of the Secretary of State, Attorney General and the director of the Office of Legislative Legal Services, or someone designated in their place. The title assigned is supposed to only include a single subject, be unambiguous and be in the form of a “yes” or “no” question.

Each of the challenges claim the title assigned to the measure misleads voters of its true intent and involves multiple subjects. The challenge from livestock organizations — calling their coalition Coloradans for Animal Care — also accuses the Title Board of including “political catch phrases” in the title.

They say the phrase “cruelty to animals” evokes support for the measure because voters will want to protect animals, and the phrase “sexual act with an animal” is a socially and politically loaded phrase used as a “hook for voters.”

Both motions argue that expanding animal cruelty laws to livestock and requiring livestock to live a quarter of their life are separate subjects, meaning they both could not be part of the ballot measure.

Gov. Jared Polis has opposed the measure saying it will destroy jobs and hurt the state. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, who is statutorily part of the Title Board, tweeted Monday that the measure is “not based on science and will raise food prices for us all,” and that it would cost rural jobs in Colorado.

“I will be fighting against it,” the tweet said.

The Title Board meets on the first and third Wednesdays of the month, with the next meeting scheduled on April 7. Even if the original decision of the title board stands, supporters for the measure still need to gather 124,632 signatures from registered Colorado voters to get it on the 2022 ballot.

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