Right To Work petition threatens labor-state

Colorado business and labor are jousting over two proposals that would combat corporate fraud and protect workers from being fired. The setting is not the picket lines but the state Initiative Title Setting Review Board, where three members spend hours tweaking lines of text and debating the pitfalls of misplaced conjunctions. Two labor-backed ballot proposals turned into six initiatives, each with different language. The process is frustrating the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, which hired an attorney to fight labor's plans.

"They are not clear on what they'll withdraw," said Doug Friednash of Fairfield & Woods. "What they've done is created a shotgun approach."

The first two original measures have cleared the title board. The chamber has appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.

The next four measures, all splintering from the first two, passed the board Wednesday.

The half-dozen initiative texts give the backers multiple options for what ultimately gets taken to the voters. The strategy allows labor to choose the most politically palatable proposal and, until the decision is made, keeps business guessing as to what, exactly, it'll be fighting this fall.

This process "is not like a legislative committee where you have debate," said Mark Grueskin of Isaacson Rosenbaum, who represents the backers. "This is the process where you refine."

The showdown comes as conservatives collect signatures for a "right-to-work" initiative that would outlaw arrangements requiring all employees to pay fees for union representation.

The Denver and state chambers have not endorsed the right-to-work initiative.

The corporate-crime measure extends penalties to employees who fail to stop it from occurring in their workplace. It also allows any Colorado resident to sue a company or its employees for fraud, with the proceeds going to the government.

The measure was intended to apply to executives, but the title board said the language made it apply to all employees. So backers came back with a proposal that limited it to executives.

They also split the proposal into two pieces, minimizing the risk the Supreme Court will find the full proposal violates the "single subject" rule.

A "just cause" proposal requires employers to show they have a reason to terminate an employee. The original measure did not have any exemptions and required a layoff of 10 percent of the work force before the firings were considered legitimate.

The modified version considered Wednesday creates certain employer exemptions and says adverse economic circumstances are sufficient.

What is the Initiative Title Setting Review Board?

The board considers whether a ballot proposal contains a "single subject." Initiatives cannot have two distinct and unrelated actions in them.

The board doesn't consider whether proposed ballot initiatives are good public policy.

If the proposal passes the single subject test, then the board must set a title for it that is "brief, unambiguous, and in the form of a question that is answered 'yes' to vote in favor of the proposed change and 'no' to vote against the proposed change."


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