Proponents of Personhood Amendment feeling blue about current ‘Blue Book’

By Marianne Goodland
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Supporters of Amendment 62, the “Personhood” amendment that voters will decide in November, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Denver District Court asking for a temporary injunction to stop the state from printing and mailing out the statewide voter’s guides, known as the Blue Books.

The lawsuit was filed against the Legislative Council of the General Assembly, and alleges the Blue Book used false statements and was not fair and impartial as is required by Colorado law.

But their attempt to stop the distribution of the Blue Book may be a futile exercise, since it has already been mailed to voters in Denver and will likely be in the hands of voters statewide within the next few days.

The Blue Book is a bi-annual publication of the Legislative Council, produced for even-year elections. It includes the language of all ballot initiatives for the November election, both those derived from citizen-initiated petitions, and referred measures from the General Assembly. The Blue Book includes sections on “arguments for” and “arguments against” for each initiative, and it also includes recommendations from the Commissions on Judicial Performance regarding retention of judges ranging from the Colorado Supreme Court to local county courts. This year’s Blue Book covers three referred measures, six citizen-initiative measures, and retention recommendations for 139 judges. It is mailed to registered voters throughout the state; this year 1.85 million Blue Books are being sent out, according to Amy Zook of the Legislative Council. The cost to print those guides will likely exceed the $835,000 it cost to do them in 2008, when 1.79 million guides were mailed.

The suit notes that the plaintiffs found out that the language in the blue book was final on Sept. 20. According to Legislative Council, the final version of the Blue Book went online on Sept. 13. Gualberto Garcia Jones, director of Personhood Colorado, told reporters outside the courthouse Tuesday that the council did not notify them when the language became final, despite their making daily requests for that information.

At issue, according to the lawsuit, is the use of what Garcia Jones and supporters claim are deliberately false statements in the section on “arguments against” and that the Legislative Council did not use their arguments in the “arguments for” section. The amendment says “‘person’ shall apply to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.” The Blue Book points out that “biological development” is not defined in the measure, and says in the “arguments against” section that “biological development” is not a commonly accepted medical or scientific term.

The lawsuit said the supporters of Amendment 62 disputed this statement repeatedly, throughout the drafting of the Blue Book right up to the final hearing on the guide language, which was held on Sept. 1.

The lawsuit also notes repeated requests by the Amendment 62 supporters to Legislative Council staff during the drafting process to change “human life” to “human being” in the “arguments for” section. That change was never made and the Executive Committee of the Legislative Council also voted not to change it during their Sept. 1 hearing. During the hearing, a Legislative Council staffer noted that the term “human life” was taken from the 2008 Blue Book language, which was not challenged.

However, the lawsuit noted that the term “human being” was more accurate, and that “human life” could be defined by opponents as trying “to grant legal rights to skin cells.”

In addition, the lawsuit states, the “arguments against” also falsely assert that Amendment 62 would limit “treatment for miscarriage.”

Garcia Jones said Tuesday that the state Constitution requires the Blue Book to be fair and impartial, and that the Legislative Council staff never used “a single word” from any of the Personhood Colorado arguments in the “arguments for” section. “We understand the Blue Book is meant to be a place for competing arguments. The other side got to make their arguments, but the issue is that [the Legislative Council] did not allow us to put our arguments forward,” he said.

“We feel this is an outrage,” said Keith Mason of Personhood Colorado. “This gives the opposition a platform to use their talking points with taxpayers’ money, even though [the arguments against] are not founded in fact or reason… It’s unfair that tax dollars are being used to parrot their talking points.” He said that as a result the Blue Book has become a pamphlet for the opposition to Amendment 62.

Garcia Jones said they hope to get an injunction this week to stop the printing of the Blue Books. If that isn’t possible, a corrected version of the Blue Book should be printed and mailed to voters at state expense, he said. “The amount of money to put out a guide to every voter is beyond the means of most campaigns,” he told reporters. “To have the arguments only for one side represented [in the Blue Book] is very unfair… Our only recourse (is) to go to the courts to have it stopped.” As of Thursday morning, however, the lawsuit had not yet been docketed nor assigned to a judge.

Garcia Jones said they found out that the Blue Book had been released from a 9News “truth test” story on Sept. 20. By then the Blue Book had been online since Sept. 13. According to Zook, the Blue Book is printed and sent out to six regions of the state; as of Wednesday morning only one region was still in the printing phase. The guides for the Denver region were already in the hands of voters on Tuesday, and four other regions are ready to be mailed.

Garcia Jones said they would have filed for the injunction sooner had they seen the online version when it was released Sept. 13. He said they had been busy with the campaign and had expected the Legislative Council to notify them when the Blue Book was final. Zook said they don’t do that, and Garcia Jones said perhaps that was something for the General Assembly to fix.

As to the potential harm caused by the disputed language of the Blue Book, Mason said, “There is trust in the process in which this book is made. The law states the people writing the book should be fair and cover both sides of the argument.”

The Legislative Council has been sued five times in the past 14 years over language tied to specific amendments in the Blue Book, most recently in 2006. Dan Cartin of Legislative Legal Services said that every case, all filed in Denver District Court, was dismissed.

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com