Vail Daily column: What the ballot says | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: What the ballot says

Ballot initiatives are laws in the making. If adopted by the voters, amendments and propositions become law. Some of the things that rear their heads in election years tend to be pretty important and this year is no exception. So hopefully, with no intended spin, here's a brief guide to what the state proposals say.

Amendment T: No Exception to Involuntary Servitude Prohibition. This measure proposes to amend the Colorado Constitution to remove vestigial language that currently allows slavery and involuntary servitude to be used as punishment for the conviction of a crime. As "yes" vote amends the state Constitution to prohibit slavery and/or involuntary servitude as part of prison work and community service. A "no" vote leaves things as they are. The concern over passage is that adoption of this amendment may create legal uncertainty around current offender work practices in the state.

Amendment U: Exempt Certain Possessory Interest from Property Taxes. A "yes" vote on Amendment U would eliminate property taxes for individuals or business that use government-owned property for private purposes that are worth $6,000 or less in market value. If passed, the amendment would become effective in the 2018 tax year and the exemption amount would adjust for inflation yearly thereafter beginning in 2019. A "no" vote leaves things as they are. The argument "for" is that the costs of collecting tax on such small sums exceeds the financial benefit of the tax itself. The argument against is that such exemption would provide an unfair tax break to those it benefits.

Amendment 69: Statewide Heath Care System. This Amendment would create a system to finance statewide health care services for Colorado residents. It would do so by creating new taxes on most sources of income and establish a board of trustees to oversee the system. The tax created would be a 10 percent income tax, payable two-thirds by employers and one-third by employees. Those self-employed would pay the entire tax themselves. A "yes" vote adopts the new system and the new tax structure. A "no" vote rejects the proposal and maintains the status quo. The argument for is twofold: first, proponents argue that the new structure will effect savings in the cost of health care; second, proponents argue that the new structure would be more equitable and provide coverage to all Coloradans. The argument against is that new tax burdens the structure would impose would harm the Colorado economy and "chill" business, would bloat the size and breadth of government, and would not insure improved patient care.

Amendment 70: State Minimum Wage. This proposal would increase the state minimum wage from the current $8.31 an hour to $9.30 and hour effective January 1, 2017. The wage would increase by ninety cents yearly until it reaches $12 an hour on Jan. 1, 2020. Thereafter, the wage would adjust annually on a cost-of-living basis. A "yes" vote would increase the minimum wage. A "no" vote rejects it and maintains the status quo. The argument for is that the current minimum wage is insufficient to provide a reasonable standard of living even for those who work a 40-hour week. The argument against is that the proposed increase wage would hurt businesses and backfire against employees by resulting in lay-offs, reduced hours, and/or reduced benefits.

Amendment 71: Requirements for Constitutional Amendments. Amendment 71 would require that a certain number of signatures be gathered from each state senate district to place a constitutional initiative on the ballot and would increase the percentage of votes required to adopt a constitutional amendment except for proposals that only repeal a part of the state constitution. A "yes" vote changes how a proposed state constitutional amendment makes its way on to future ballots. A "no" vote leaves the present system in place. The argument for is that it should be difficult to change the state constitution because the constitution is the foundational document for the state. Further, by requiring signatures from each senate district, any proposed change to the constitution would show broader support. The argument against is that Amendment 71 would make it too difficult for citizens to exercise their right to initiate constitutional change and would increase both the difficulty and costs of advancing a proposed constitutional amendment.

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Amendment 72: Increase Cigarette and Tobacco Taxes. This amendment proposes to raise the state tax on a pack of cigarettes from 84 cents to $2.59. It would also increase the state tax on other tobacco products from 40 percent of the price to 62 percent. The new monies raised would be devoted to medical research, tobacco-use prevention, doctors and clinics in rural or low-income areas, veterans' services, and other health-related programs. A "yes" vote adopts the new taxes. A "no" vote maintains the status quo. The argument for is that higher taxes on tobacco products discourages use and that imposing the tax will help off-set the health care burden caused by tobacco use. The argument against is that as the amendment would become part of the constitution, if the programs to be instituted prove ineffective, repeal of the amendment would be difficult, requiring another constitutional change.

Proposition 106: Access to Medical Aid-in-Dying Medication. This proposition would allow terminally ill persons with a prognosis of 6 months or less to live to request and self-administer medication to voluntarily end their life. Physicians would be authorized to prescribe such medication to the terminally ill and would create criminal penalties for tampering with a person's request for aid-in-dying medication. A "yes" vote adopts the aid-in-dying initiative. A "no" vote rejects it. The argument for is that it would facilitate death with dignity and provide choice to the terminally ill. The argument against is that it would minimize the value of certain lives, encourage potentially rash decisions, and potentially place doctors in a position of ethical-legal conflict.

Proposition 107: Presidential Primary Elections. This proposition would establish a presidential primary election in Colorado that allows participation by unaffiliated voters. A "yes" vote mandates presidential primaries and permits unaffiliated votes to participate in both Democratic and Republican primaries. A "no" vote rejects the proposal and maintains the status quo where presidential consideration may take place by way of caucuses. The argument for is that primaries better serve voters than caucuses and makes presidential election more accessible to voters. The argument against is that the proposed system would actually exclude some unaffiliated voters and would shift costs to taxpayers. In addition, those against argue that the change is unnecessary as unaffiliated voters may participate in caucuses by changing party affiliation.

Proposition 108: Unaffiliated Voter Participation in Primary Elections. This would change the primary election process in this state to allow unaffiliated voters to vote in a non-presidential primary election of a single political party and allow political parties to opt out of holding a primary election and, instead, to choose to nominate candidates by assembly or convention. A "yes" vote adopts the propose change. A "no" vote rejects it. The argument for it is that it would allow unaffiliated voters to vote in the primaries. The argument against is the proposal would actually exclude some unaffiliated voters and would shift costs to taxpayers. In addition, those against argue that the change is unnecessary as unaffiliated voters may participate in caucuses by changing party affiliation.

The limits of space obviously limit the depth of discussion and you can and should look more deeply into those matters about which you care deeply. The above, then, may be used simply as a "crib sheet," lending the most basic understanding to those matters upon which Colorado will vote on November 8th. However you vote, do vote. Enfranchisement and its exercise are the pistons that drive the engine of democracy!

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 and at either of his email addresses, robbins@slblaw.com and robbins@colorado.net.