Title Board meeting 3-25-20

The Title Board met virtually on March 25, 2020 to advance initiatives pertaining to nicotine taxes and paid leave.

The Title Board on Wednesday advanced proposed ballot initiatives pertaining to paid leave and tobacco and nicotine taxes, all of which were slight variations on measures previously given the green light.

Initiatives 287-292 would raise cigarette taxes by varying amounts and create a nicotine products tax equal to the tobacco tax. The revenue would go largely to fund preschool access. Katherine Stigberg and Chelsea Stallings were the designated representatives, and the initiatives would raise between $318 million and $391 million annually, depending on the amount of the tax increase.

The Title Board had already approved six similar proposals, with more having been drafted but withdrawn. In the past several months, proponents of numerous policy ideas have taken to submitting multiple — in some cases, dozens — of minor variations to the three-member board before choosing a viable measure to circulate for signatures.

Board Chair Theresa Conley, representing Secretary of State Jena Griswold, took issue with the draft titles' assertions that the increased funding would provide 16 hours per week of pre-kindergarten to all eligible children.

“Are you able to guarantee that the revenue will provide access for all children to go to pre-kindergarten?” she asked Mark Grueskin, the lawyer for the proponents, during the virtual meeting.

“The measure only provides that this revenue is going to be directed for purposes of providing access,” Grueskin replied, indicating not. The board set titles for the measures after clarifying that children would have access to pre-kindergarten as funding allowed.

The board also advanced Initiative 283, which would establish 12 weeks of paid family leave through premiums of between 0.9% and 1.2% on an employee’s wages. Local governments would have the ability to opt out, but employees of those governments as well as self-employed workers could still receive coverage. Two similar initiatives are before the Colorado Supreme Court with an objection to the Title Board’s decision to omit tax increase language in the title.

Board members held a rehearing of three ballot measures from Michael Fields of Parker and Lindsey Singer of Highlands Ranch which would require future enterprises to receive voter approval if they met certain revenue thresholds.

Martha Tierney, an attorney representing objector William Hunter Railey, explained that the measures contained two subjects: voter approval of enterprises and mandatory spending reductions for organizations that failed to gain enterprise status.

“I think voters have no idea, based on the language of the measure — much less the title — what it does,” she said. Enterprises in Colorado are government-owned businesses that receive no more than 10% of revenue from public funding and are exempt from revenue caps under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Colorado’s higher education institutions and the lottery are examples of existing enterprises.

The written objection from Railey also raised the prospect that entities awaiting enterprise designations may have to cut revenue between even-year elections while they wait for voters to approve their new status. Suzanne Staiert, representing the proponents, implied that speculation about the effects of the three measures was not within the Title Board’s domain.

“Those are effects of the measure,” she said. “They don’t create an additional subject.”

The board turned away the challenge from Railey, with Jason Gelender, a board member representing the Office of Legislative Legal Services, remarking that “any time we do an initiative that, say, requires a state to spend money on something, in theory some money might not be available elsewhere. That does not make those initiatives multiple-subject initiatives and I just don’t think it does here, either.”

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