Colorado Ballot Initiative 16 would criminalize some veterinary and animal husbandry practices

Colorado Ballot Initiative 16 would criminalize some veterinary and animal husbandry practices

Last updated April 16, 2021

What are the latest updates on this issue?

There was a Title Board rehearing of Ballot Initiative 16 (PAUSE) on Wednesday, April 7. CVMA attended the 4-hour rehearing during which the Title Board set a new title for the ballot initiative. While the Title Board acknowledged that it needed to fix some of its earlier errors in setting a title, CVMA believes the new title set by the board does not accurately describe the impact the measure would have on animal and public health.

A group of Colorado-based agriculture and livestock organizations has requested the State Supreme Court review the April 7 decisions by the Title Board. Signature gathering for the initiative will not begin until the State Supreme Court review has concluded.

What is CVMA’s position on this issue?

CVMA is highly concerned about Ballot Initiative 16 because it would have significant, extremely negative impacts on Colorado’s animals, their owners, and the veterinary profession. Every veterinarian takes an oath to protect animal health and welfare, prevent and relieve animal suffering, promote public health, and advance medical knowledge. Initiative 16 threatens all of those commitments.

Initiative 16 would radically redefine certain common veterinary medical practices as criminal animal cruelty and criminal sexual acts with animals.

If passed by Colorado voters in 2022, the initiative would:

  • Require that criminal animal cruelty charges be filed against veterinarians for performing common veterinary medical surgeries
  • Make spaying and neutering animals a criminal offense, thereby increasing animal suffering, pet overpopulation, and spreading of disease
  • Criminalize safe and common artificial insemination of dogs, horses, and livestock as “sexual act with an animal” or bestiality.

CVMA strongly believes the title for Initiative 16 that was set by the Title Board on April 7 does not give voters a fair title that accurately describes the impact that the measure would have on animal health and on public health.

What are elected officials saying about this initiative?

Governor Jared Polis has issued comments to several news outlets stating his opposition to this initiative; however, no official public statement has yet been released. Several rural Colorado legislators are encouraging Governor Polis to make a public statement about his position on the initiative.


What is this issue all about?

“Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation” or Ballot Initiative 16, proposes changes to Colorado’s animal cruelty statutes and is an initiative being considered for the 2022 Colorado ballot. Click here to read the text of the initiative.

What is a ballot initiative?

A ballot initiative is a proposal that gets put on a ballot by an individual or group that collects enough voter signatures to get it added to the ballot. The wolf reintroduction issue on the 2020 Colorado ballot is an example of a ballot initiative.

A ballot initiative does not go through the state legislature or the governor. Unlike legislative bills, the initiative process does not include discussion, criticism, or debate on the content of the initiative. For citizen initiatives, like ballot initiatives, such deliberations are intentionally left to the voters.

What are proponents of the initiative saying?

The proponents say key goals of the initiative are to:

  • Raise the quality of life of all domesticated animals in the state regardless of the species: Dog, cat, cow, or pig.
  • Ensure animals are “treated with dignity” by changing the definition of “sexual act with an animal.”
  • Require livestock to reach 25% of their natural lifespan prior to slaughter.

What are opponents of the initiative saying?

Opponents of the initiative, including CVMA, are concerned that the initiative will:

  • Criminalize some actions that are currently accepted veterinary medical and animal husbandry practices. Even generally accepted practices acknowledged by the American Veterinary Medical Association, would be criminal animal abuse.
  • Specifically, criminalize any intrusion or penetration with an object or part of a person’s body would criminalize accepted animal husbandry practices including artificial insemination, pregnancy checking, semen collection, and fertility testing sires.
  • Mislead voters about the true intent, meaning, and content of the proposed law with the name “Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation.”

How does a ballot initiative get on the voter ballot?

Ballot Initiative 16 must successfully complete a 14-step initiative process to be listed on the 2022 ballot (see steps below).

Colorado Ballot Initiative Process

Step   1.    Submission of Proposal for Review and Comment
Step   2.    Review and Comment Meeting
Step   3.    Submission of Revised Proposals
Step   4.    Filing with Secretary of State
Step   5.    Title Setting
Step   6.    Revision of Proposal after Title Board Meeting
Step   7.    Rehearings of Title Board Decisions
Step   8.    Appeals of Title Board Decisions
Step   9.    Signature Gathering
Step 10.    Submission of Petitions to the Secretary of State
Step 11.    Verification of Signatures
Step 12.    Curing an Insufficiency
Step 13.    Protesting the Secretary of State’s Determination
Step 14.    Placement on Ballot

Currently, Initiative 16 is at Step 8 in the process.

Step 8 (Appeals of Title Board Decisions), provides that any person who is not satisfied with the Title Board’s decision may file an appeal with the Colorado Supreme Court, which will either affirm or reverse the Title Board’s decision.

Step 9 (Signature Gathering), would require the proponents to gather more than 124,600 signatures of registered voters, which are then verified by the Secretary of State’s office during Step 11 (Verification of Signatures). Both proponents and opponents must make major infusions of cash to fund expertise in signature gathering and marketing to the voting public. CVMA expects this process to occur in late 2021.

Even though Colorado’s processes for proposing ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments are among the easiest to navigate in the nation, somewhere between 100 and 165 citizen initiatives are launched and usually fewer than 10 make it onto the ballot. On average, 3 are successful. However, CVMA and other groups are anticipating that this initiative will make it to the 2022 ballot.

What is CVMA doing in response?

CVMA is watching this initiative carefully and is communicating regularly with livestock associations and other allied organizations in Colorado that are working on the issue. Advocacy is CVMA’s number one priority and CVMA is actively tracking the situation as it develops.

CVMA has attended both Title Board hearings and submitted comments expressing concern over the confusing nature of the initiative’s title, urging the Title Board to reject the current title and to designate an accurate, fair title for the initiative.

CVMA is engaged with allied organizations and is in the early stages of discussing the formation of a coalition to formally oppose the initiative. This is a lengthy process, and any organized opposition must be carefully timed to be effective and use resources wisely. CVMA will continue to update members on the issue as it moves forward.

How can I get involved?

We’re glad you asked!

  1. Keep an eye on eVOICE for further information about the status of this initiative that you can share with your colleagues and community.
  2. Although CVMA rarely asks members for donations, ballot initiatives are notoriously expensive for both initiative proponents and opponents. Coalition organizations may contact members down the road to ask for financial support to fund the necessary opposition for this bill.