CO Supreme Court pauses PAUSE Act
In a 7-0 decision, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Title Board, allowing proponents to move forward with Initiative 16, known as the PAUSE Act.
The nonpartisan Title Board is tasked with determining whether a proposed initiative meets the constitutional requirement of containing a single subject. The Title Board also fixes the title, or question, that will appear on the ballot and be posed to voters.
The Title Board set a title, heard from opponents, and did not reverse their earlier decision. A coalition of agriculture groups appealed the decision to the state’s highest court, which ruled on June 21 against the board, meaning that proponents may not move forward with the current initiative.
According to the decision, “the initiative’s central theme is incorporating livestock into the animal cruelty statutes but expanding the definition of ‘sexual act with an animal’ would criminalize additional conduct regardless of whether that conduct is directed at livestock or other animals.”
In the 27-page court opinion delivered by Justice William W. Hood III, this redefining of sexual act with an animal “strays into a second subject be addressing the bodily integrity of all animals, not just livestock.” According to the opinion, because the incorporation of livestock into the animal cruelty statues, which is the central theme of the initiative, is not properly connected to the second subject, there is “potential for the very kind of voter surprise” the single subject requirement is meant to guard against. Voters, Hood said, might not understand that what is nominally a livestock initiative also affects the care of all animals, or vice versa.
In short, the initiative fails to satisfy the single subject requirement because expanding the definition of “sexual act with an animal” isn’t necessarily and properly connected to the measure’s central focus of incorporating livestock into the animal cruelty statutes. This would, according to the opinion, combine the repeal of the livestock exemptions with the criminalization of new conduct toward all animals.
The state’s agriculture groups have applauded the ruling though preparing for the next activist-driven action is top of mind for many. Proponents can submit a new draft that takes into consideration the decision of the Supreme Court. Once submitted, it would be reviewed by Colorado Legislative Council and reviewed in a hearing by the title board before the signature gathering process could begin. According to the Secretary of State, the deadline to file an initiative petition for the 2022 General Election is August 8, 2022.
Coloradans for Animal Care, comprised of the state’s major ag organizations and others, said in a statement they, too, remain vigilant.
“While Coloradans for Animal Care is pleased with the ruling, we will remain vigilant and work to oppose similar measures that may be filed following the ruling. The coalition in opposition to the measure was strong and robust and we anticipate it only getting stronger should the proponents continue to file additional measures similar to 16.”
Colorado Farm Bureau vice president of advocacy Shawn Martini said he’s pleased but remains cautious.
“While the ruling is a welcome one, this issue isn’t over,” he said. “We will continue to monitor the situation and engage again quickly should the proponents be foolish enough to file a similar initiative.”
Gov. Polis told Colorado Cattlemen Association members at the CCA Annual Meeting Monday that he is “delighted” with the Supreme Court decision and thanked cattle producers for joining him early in opposing that initiative. Polis told CCA members that agriculture is at the top of his administration’s agenda and said agriculture is a part of the solution for challenges related to climate and economic recovery. It is, he said, an industry he is willing to protect.
“I don’t think you’ll ever have a governor in your lifetime that is as close to the industry in terms of his brother being a cattle rancher, him being an alfalfa producer for 20-some years for feed,” he said. “You may, but given the population of this state, that’s unlikely to occur in the next half century again so let’s take advantage of it.”
Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association said there has been much discussion about limiting frivolous ballot measures like Initiative 16.
“Raising the bar to pass initiatives or pass them in a way that gives more significance placed upon the areas they’re going to hurt than just a simple majority rule would require resources and time, but I don’t believe there’s any more perfect time in history than this,” Fankhauser said. “Continually fighting these things doesn’t make sense and the ballot initiative process wasn’t intended to be utilized in this way, but when you lose the morality in how you’re using it – which clearly we have- there are no rules.”
According to the Denver Post, Colorado Republican Party Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown applauded the ruling.
“This illogical ballot initiative would further the rural-urban divide in Colorado and destroy family farms, ranches, and the agricultural industry our entire state relies on,” she said. “The Republican Party stands with the hardworking Coloradans who feed our families every day.”
Nebraska Farm Bureau president Mark McHargue said the proposal was a “new level of opposition from animal rights activists” that wasn’t about animal welfare, but about “erasing the livestock industry, as well as animal byproducts industries, entirely.”
“While the proponents still have time to file a new initiative with a narrower title, we must continue to fight these kinds of proposals and protect our nation’s ability to produce food,” McHargue said. “It’s important that people know and understand where their food comes from, but equally important they know that extreme animal activists are working against them.”
Colorado Livestock Association president elect Kenny Rogers anticipates additional ballot proposals will be introduced given the ease of placing a proposition on the ballot in Colorado.
“Leave your pads on,” he said. “This was just the first quarter.”
The Fence Post Magazine’s calls to the initiative’s proponents for comment were not returned.
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