The Colorado Community Rights Network is taking on what it sees as the dangers of fracking and other large corporate activities in the state. The Community Rights Amendment, which the group hopes to have on the November ballot, would give city and county governments powers far beyond existing land use and zoning regulations.
“That's one of the main differences between our initiative and the others,” said Lotus, chairman of Colorado Springs Citizens for Community Rights. (Lotus is known by a single name.) “It doesn't matter if it's a company that's going to frack no matter what the community wants, regardless of the community's rights to be healthy. It also applies to other corporate activities like corporate pig farming, cyanide mining and GMO agriculture where they're contaminating farmers’ crops in nearby fields.”
The ballot initiative is currently being challenged in the Colorado Supreme Court. The issue being heard is whether the initiative meets the single subject rule, which states that a question on a ballot must address only one subject that expresses a clear intent. “That's our last obstacle before we can reasonably begin collecting signatures,” Lotus said. “The opponents argue that the initiative is not single-subject; that it's not clear and doesn't represent our intent. We think we will win pretty easily.” If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the CRA, supporters must still collect enough signatures to qualify for the Nov. 4 ballot.
The amendment would give cities and towns in Colorado “the power to enact local laws establishing, defining, altering, or eliminating the rights, powers, and duties of corporations and other business entities operating or seeking to operate in the community, to prevent such rights and powers from interfering with such locally enacted fundamental rights of individuals, their communities, and nature,” according to the amendment text at http://cocrn.org.
Industry and corporate interests are expected to oppose the measure vigorously, Lotus said. “The fact they have a tremendous amount of money to put in PR like the tobacco companies in the past doesn't matter because we have truth and justice on our side,” Lotus said.
The Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance has not taken a position on the amendment because it's too early in the process, said Brittany Harp, communications manager. “The ballot hasn't been created yet, and we have a process for legislative initiatives review,” Harp said.
The amendment's language that local laws enacted under the amendment would “not be subject to pre-emption by international, federal or state laws” opens up a can of worms. “Two words: supremacy clause,” said Jordan Sickman, a Chicago property rights attorney. The supremacy clause in the U.S. Constitution establishes the constitution, federal statutes and treaties as “the supreme law of the land.” Local laws enacted under the CRA would face similar conflict with federal law as Colorado's legalization of marijuana, in which cannabis is still illegal under federal law but legal under Colorado law.
“There's some validity to the supremacy clause issue,” Lotus said. “They'll likely still have trouble at the federal and international level. That's why we can't stop at only the state level.”
Amendment proponents describe the conflict between private property rights of corporations and the rights of communities to control what occurs in their boundaries as similar to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. “We're in for the long haul, similar to women’s voting rights and the civil rights movement,” Lotus said. “There's a very strong need for this that goes back to the writing of the bill of rights. The king was nullifying local laws, and now we're back in the same situation; where the state and federal governments think they have the right to nullify local activities.”
Despite the anti-corporate nature of the text and campaign, the CRN hopes to make the initiative a non-partisan issue. “When it comes to basic human rights to things like health, clear water, clean air, protection of property values – this isn't Democratic or Libertarian or Green Party issues,” Lotus said. “These are rights that we're all ready to fight for.”
The Colorado Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether the initiative can move on to collecting signatures in May.