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Group supporting Colorado right to die law among those to submit petitions for election

August 5, 2016 Updated: August 5, 2016 at 7:33 pm
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On Friday, the Raise the Bar campaign rolled into the Secretary of State's Office in Denver with petitions signed by about 185,000 Coloradans who want to make it more difficult to amend the state constitution.

The petitions represent countless hours of work by volunteers, millions of dollars paid to signature gatherers and months of campaign preparation.

Monday is the deadline to submit the required 98,492 signatures to get initiatives on the November ballot. The Secretary of State's Office must then verify that enough signatures came from valid registered voters to qualify.

Only one issue is on the ballot - Amendment 69, which would create ColoradoCare, a universal health care system for all Coloradans, supported by a new payroll tax on employees and employers.

In addition to Raise the Bar, petitions have been submitted for two other proposed ballot measures.

On Thursday, Colorado End of Life Options, a campaign to make it legal for doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients, turned in 160,000 signatures.

And last month, a group hoping to raise the state's minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020 turned in 200,000 signatures.

The Secretary of State's Office now will audit a random 5 percent of the signatures to see if they are valid. Each petition will be approved, disapproved or require a line-by-line review. The office has 30 days after a petition is submitted to announce whether the issue has qualified for the November ballot.

Several other groups are gathering signatures and have until 3 p.m. Monday to turn them in.

Groups backing the proposed ballot measures aren't necessarily waiting for official word, however. Holly Armstrong, communications director for Colorado End of Life Options, said the campaign has reserved TV ad time.

According to campaign finance records filed with the Secretary of State's Office, to date the group has spent $3.9 million, including a $2.9 million ad buy in June and about $344,000 paid to a national company that gathers campaign signatures.

Armstrong said some signature gatherers volunteered, many because they had watched someone suffer during their final days.

"This is a personal choice, and so if somebody feels that their suffering has become too much, they have that option" to end their own life, Armstrong said. "This actually gives people more piece of mind while they are living."

Carrie Ann Lucas is mounting an opposition to the proposed amendment. She has a progressive neuromuscular disease that has left her dependent on life support. The Windsor attorney said she would qualify under the requirements of the measure for a life-ending prescription.

"We believe that through the coercion and abuse there will be lives that are lost," Lucas said. "There is no witness required at the time of death."

The measure outlines many safeguards, Armstrong said. Only adults with six months to live can receive the prescription, and a prescription requires approval from two physicians who must offer the patient multiple opportunities to withdraw the request for the drug. An additional two witnesses must verify the individual is capable of making his or her own medical decisions, and the patient must self-administer the drug.

Lucas said her group hasn't reported raising money, that they are underdogs who believe they are in the right.

"It's far cheaper to offer a lethal prescription to someone than it is to treat someone," she said. "We have a profit-driven health care system, and so this will definitely put people's lives at risk."

The campaign battles will begin in earnest as November nears.

Greg Brophy, spokesman for Raise the Bar, said he hopes voters will recognize the need to make it more difficult to amend the state constitution. The ballot question would require signatures be gathered in each of Colorado's 35 state Senate districts and amendments would require 55 percent voter approval instead of a simple majority.

"We just believe that the constitution is a foundational document that ought not be used for directing wildlife management issues and agriculture issues," he said. "Colorado is probably the easiest state in the nation to amend the constitution."

Of the petition efforts, five support amendments to the constitution, including Brophy's.

The other three, including medical aid in dying, are statutes.

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