Grand commissioners: Initiative 16 would destroy agriculture |

Grand commissioners: Initiative 16 would destroy agriculture

Grand County commissioners have voiced their opposition to a ballot initiative that could have serious consequences for Colorado’s agricultural industry.

Colorado Initiative 16, titled “Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation” or PAUSE for short, has many ranchers worried it would destroy the industry as a whole. As a voter-initiated ballot to change state statute, the measure will need 124,632 voter signatures to make it onto the 2022 ballot.

Commissioner Merrit Linke explained Tuesday that there are a number of issues in the proposed statute changes that he finds “very troubling.”

The PAUSE measure specifies that any livestock cannot be slaughtered until it reaches one-quarter of its natural lifespan, which is much longer than the current average lifespan for most livestock.

For example, the initiative defines a natural lifespan for a cow as 20 years, meaning a cow could not be slaughtered until it is 5 years old. Cows are typically butchered at 12-22 months.

“(That) is effectively going to stop that entire process,” Linke said. “People aren’t going to do that. They’re going to go out of state.”

The PAUSE initiative goes on to criminalize many accepted practices, like artificial insemination or neutering, by classifying “any intrusion or penetration, however slight, with an object” as a sexual act with an animal.

“It criminalizes normal, accepted, standard veterinary and livestock management practices,” Linke said.

Gov. Jared Polis has already opposed the PAUSE measure and, as of April 26, 14 other Colorado counties have passed resolutions against it.

Grand’s lobbyist and consultant Mark Waller explained why this measure going to voters is so concerning.

“While this does impact everybody, I think people don’t understand necessarily how it’s going to impact them, especially people who live in urban centers who are going to be voting on this,” Waller said. “I think it’s very similar, in many respects, to the introduction of the gray wolf issue that came to Colorado last year in 2020.”

As a statutory change, if the PAUSE measure made it onto the ballot, the initiative would need the majority of votes to pass, equal to 50% plus one. Colorado Proposition 114, the wolf reintroduction initiative, was narrowly passed by 50.9% of voters last year after many in the agricultural industry advocated strongly against it.

Waller added that uninformed voters may support this ballot measure, unaware of its consequences, because of the language related to animal abuse and sexual acts against animals.

“When people see those kind of words, they become inflamed by them and, of course, nobody wants to see animals abused in any way,” Waller said. “They don’t understand that this is going to prevent the agricultural industry from being able to engage in the practice of agriculture in the state of Colorado. It’s going to be absolutely horrible and devastating.”

Some of the language, which states that, “a sexual act with an animal may be proven without allegation or proof of penetration,” could be ripe for a constitutional challenge.

Waller explained that even though ranchers could win such a case, because of the time it would take to challenge the initiative in the legal system, many of them would likely be driven out of the state before the law could be changed.

Additionally, a constitutional challenge would only apply to that specific language. The rest of the statute would remain.

“You can’t proactively or ahead of time make a challenge to a constitutional issue,” Waller said of the time it would take to change the law if passed. “It actually has to be law before you can make a challenge to it.”

While the initiative has been approved to begin gathering signatures, its title has been challenged as misleading. Waller said he believes there’s a fair chance the Colorado Supreme Court will rule that the title is not appropriate.

This would not kill the ballot initiative, which could find a different title and move forward with the same changes to state statute.

Grand County commissioners gave direction to staff to draft a letter and resolution strongly opposing the PAUSE initiative.

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