Election 2018FeaturedNews

Initiative 108: A record 209K petition signatures turned in

Author: Marianne Goodland - August 3, 2018 - Updated: August 23, 2018

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A truck bearing some of the 209,000 petition signatures — a state record — turned in to the secretary of state on August 3 for ballot measure 108. (Photo by Marianne Goodland, Colorado Politics)

Proponents of a ballot measure they claim will strengthen private property rights turned in a record 209,000 petition signatures Friday to the secretary of state.

Initiative 108 is a constitutional proposal for the November ballot that its chief sponsor, Colorado Farm Bureau, says will allow private property owners to take state or local governments to court when their property is devalued. The ballot measure doesn’t identify the kind of private property that could be taken, but examples include mineral, oil and gas, or water rights.

The ballot measure addresses what’s known as “takings” — when the government takes someone’s private property for public use. Current law doesn’t allow a property owner to sue until their property has been devalued by 90 percent. Initiative 108 — although the ballot measure’s language doesn’t say so — would allow a property owner to sue for fair compensation for a much lower threshold, according to Marc Arnusch, a Weld County farmer and a member of CFB’s board of directors.

Initiative 108 becomes the second constitutional ballot measure under more stringent signature requirements approved by voters in 2016 under Amendment 71, aka “Raise the Bar,” which CFB supported.

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Don Shawcroft, president of Colorado Farm Bureau, helps unload some of the 38 boxes of petition signatures for initiative #108 at the Secretary of State’s office. Photo by Marianne Goodland, Colorado Politics

Carlyle Currier, CFB vice president, said Friday that the success of the signature-collection effort demonstrated that “when given a voice, voters outside the Front Range want and deserve to have a say in the ballot initiative process.” That goes to the claim, prior to the passage of Amendment 71, that petition signature requirements could more easily be satisfied by collecting signatures in the state’s major population centers, ignoring rural Colorado voters.

The initiative was required to collect 98,492 signatures. The 209,000 signatures surpass the previous record of 189,419 signatures in 2016 turned in by proponents of a change to the state’s minimum wage law.

Among the takings that, according to proponents, demonstrate the need for the initiative:

  • The North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative, which includes the revamped National Western Center. Proponents claims this expansion, which includes a major reconfiguration of I-70, “are the chief offenders for seizing private property and, as such, are the epicenter for local backlash and opposition.” (Colorado Farm Bureau is a major supporter of the National Western project.)
  • A 2004 open space project by the city of Telluride, which sized land that was scheduled for development. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled in favor of Telluride, stating that “condemnation of property for open space and parks constitutes a lawful, public, local and municipal purpose,” a case that has “carried an immense amount of weight in how eminent domain and private takings cases have been handled in Colorado ever since.”

Should voters approve 108, owners who believe their property is being devalued without fair compensation must prove that the devaluation is the result of government action. For example, if a city zoned adjacent property that diminished land values, the owners of the adjacent property would not likely prevail in a court action on a takings claim.

The measure is opposed by the Colorado Municipal League and a handful of elected municipal officials. “Enshrining 108 in the constitution ought to concern everyone,” tweeted Kevin Bommer, legislative liaison for the Colorado Municipal League. “Want a county to be sued for allowing (a) dairy farm to be built? Or a municipality zoning to ensure industrial uses don’t impact schools? 108 will pit property owners against each other,” he warned.

Chad Vorthmann, executive vice president for CFB, said he found those claims troubling. “It makes me think those in charge of our government either don’t understand all the case law” on takings, “or are being blatantly misleading. Courts have taken a narrow view of takings legislation,” Vorthmann explained. A takings claim can’t be based on a general public loss or ones that involve health and safety or nuisance issues, he said.

Vorthmann added that 108 is the first time Colorado Farm Bureau has proposed a ballot measure, although the effort is also backed by the oil and gas industry, which also backed Amendment 71.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.