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Animal cruelty ballot measure is invalid, Colorado Supreme Court rules

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The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday rejected a ballot measure that would have placed substantial limits on the state’s ranching and meat production industry, ruling that Initiative 16 violates the state’s single-subject requirement.

Initiative 16 would have gone on the 2022 ballot. Its goal was to add livestock and fish to the state’s animal cruelty law and redefine what constitutes a “sexual act with an animal,” including practices often used in breeding and animal husbandry.

“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,” the justices ruled.

The justices ordered that the state’s Title Board “strike the titles” from the measure and “return the initiative to its proponents.”

Initiative 16 would also have required livestock to be slaughtered only after an animal lived a quarter of its natural lifespan — estimated at 20 years for cattle or eight years for a chicken — which would vastly change current practices, considering cattle are often killed for their meat at a younger age.

The website for the ballot initiative, called Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation, or PAUSE, says it would have extended animal welfare rights to all farm animals and that there is “no rational reason to exempt farmed animals from basic abuse laws that currently exist to protect our pets.”

But livestock and ranching groups across Colorado saw something more nefarious: an end to their livelihood as they know it. The Colorado Livestock Association CEO Bill Hammerich told The Denver Post in April that the initiative would hurt the state’s agriculture industry and impact meat and meat product exports, which make up nearly 14% of Colorado’s exports.

A coalition of livestock and farming groups called Coloradans for Animal Care challenged the measure at the Colorado Supreme Court in April. The group said the title includes “political catchphrases” meant to sway voters and deals with at least two subjects when ballot measures can only have one.

Gov. Jared Polis has also come out against the measure, saying he “stands in solidarity with Colorado farmers and ranchers in opposition to the PAUSE ballot initiative because it would hurt Colorado and destroy jobs.”

Colorado Farm Bureau spokesman Shawn Martini called the ruling Monday a “huge win for anyone that has interaction with animals in Colorado, be it livestock or pet animals.” He credited various groups, including the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association, for getting out ahead of the issue and coalescing as an opposition front.

“A lot of that was due to it being as draconian and radical as it was,” he said Monday.

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