From the Statehouse to the Ballotbox

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4min 14sec

It's been more than a month since Colorado lawmakers wrapped up their annual legislative session at the state capitol, but the work is far from over. Many of the bills that failed this year will likely be back next year, and some long-standing issues may already be poised to go before voters in 2016.

"I've worked on issues that have taken a couple of years to get through," said Representative Don Coram (R-Montrose).

That's probably true for almost every lawmaker.  For instance a felony DUI bill, which the Governor just signed into law, took several tries, so did in-state college tuition for children living in the country illegally. For his part Coram tried to pass a bill requiring photo identification to vote. It failed in its first committee.

"I just wanted the legislature to be aware," said Coram.

Opponents said it would discriminate and suppress voting. Coram sees the proposal as a no-brainer and is hopeful that voters will get to decide the issue in 2016.

"If we put it to the ballot it does become part of the Colorado constitution and this fight is over for a while."

The state constitution requires ballot questions for this fall to be related to fiscal matters.

The state constitution requires ballot questions for this fall to be related to fiscal matters, which is why it will be relatively quiet. So far voters will be asked if the state can keep marijuana tax money it collected that otherwise would have to be refunded under the Tax Payers Bill of Rights. As for 2016, another proposal that voters will likely see would allow grocery stores to sell full strength beer.

"We have the highest density of craft brewers per capita, the best selection and lower average prices for most beers of any state," said Eric Wallace, the co-founder of Left Hand Brewing in Longmont. Independent liquor storeowners, and craft brewers like Wallace have long argued against such a move saying it would hurt their industry. He testified against a legislative proposal that ultimately failed several years ago.

"This would directly impact our business and our ability to sell our wonderful beer because it will greatly reduce the number of outlets in which we are able to sell them," said Wallace.

But supporters argue that grocery store chains would still sell craft brews and it's better for customers. Colorado State University Political Science professor John Straayer believes the debate at the capitol was an insider business discussion, but thinks it would shift for a statewide campaign. And his money is on the grocery stores winning the battle.

"If pose the question in general terms, do you think it makes sense to be able to buy whatever you want in terms by way of alcoholic beverages at the store you frequent the most, the grocery store, well yeah," said Straayer.

It's not certain whether voters will see other controversial proposals, including a death with dignity bill that was introduced by Representative Joann Ginal (D-Fort Collins). It would have allowed physicians to prescribe a life ending drug to patients who have six months or less to live. After much hype, it failed in its first Democratic controlled committee.

"I don't anticipate it going to the ballot, not at this point," said Ginal.

However she said she plans to bring the bill back next year. Even if it were to clear the Democratic controlled house, Republicans, who have a majority in the Senate, oppose it. Ginal thinks the death with dignity proposal would fare better with voters.  

"Most of my emails and correspondence with my constituents were mainly in support of the bill. There was very little opposition."

The other wild card is a measure to give local cities and towns more authority over oil and gas regulations. A task force appointed by the Governor tried to address the issue, but some Democratic lawmakers said the legislature hasn't done enough.  

"People have the right to have strong safeguards at the local government level, just like they do for every other activity," said Senator Matt Jones (D-Longmont).

No matter what voters may decide in 2016, changes have been made to the process of getting measures on the ballot. A bill recently signed by the Governor requires groups gathering signatures for statewide ballot initiatives to include the financial cost to the state.

"I think it helps people become informed," said Stan Dempsey the head of the Colorado Petroleum Association. If there were to be an anti-fracking ballot initiative, Dempsey said the new law will help frame the debate sooner.

"Maybe proponents of a ballot issue will have to work a little bit harder for collect those signatures if folks are reading the analysis and saying no thanks," said Dempsey.

And then there's always the unexpected measure making it on the ballot, especially since next legislative session will be leading into a busy presidential election year.