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Colorado group wants ballot measure to make it harder to change state constitution

By Megan Schrader

February 3, 2016

DENVER – Civic leaders trying to make it harder to amend the Colorado Constitution will ask voters in November to require future petition signatures be gathered in each of the state’s 35 Senate districts and that at least 55 percent of voters approve the initiative when it appears on the ballot.

“Our constitution has become a special-interest playground because the bar to amend it is so spectacularly, inexplicably, unthinkingly low,” said former state Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, who is backing the five initiative petitions submittedTuesday to Colorado Legislative Council Staff. “Amending the state constitution should take more than a couple big dollar donors, a signature collection crew on Denver’s 16th Street and Boulders Pearl Street malls, and a big idea that sounds good on a bumper sticker.”

The issue is one of several floated by Building a Better Colorado, a group of civic leaders who held more than two dozen meetings across the state to gauge public interest in ballot proposals for 2016. A spokesman for Building a Better Colorado said other issues addressed by the group in those meetings could be introduced for November’s ballot. Those issues included amending or repealing portions of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, changing the state’s caucus process to be a primary system more inclusive of independent voters, and changing term limits.

But Brophy and Democrat Dan Gibbs, a former state Senator, are launching the first initiative to come from the Building a Better Colorado process.

“Raising the bar on amending our state constitution was one of the most popular ideas we heard in our outreach with people from across the state, and we’re eager to see that idea move forward,” said Reeves Brown, project director. “Building a Better Colorado continues to review policy options around the state’s financial future and other structures of government, and will address those issues in greater detail in the near future.”

Colorado has one of the country’s easiest state constitutions to amend, and both Democrats and Republicans bemoan the fact that seemingly anyone with the money (commonly rumored to cost around $100,000) can get the required signatures to take a ballot proposal to voters. Then it requires a simple majority of participating voters to make the amendment law.

The petition language submitted Tuesday night to the Colorado Legislative Council Staff must go through a review and comment meeting before going to the Secretary of State’s Office for title setting. The group can then begin collecting signatures to put the issues on the ballot.

The five proposed petitions are all variations of the same idea: require at least some signatures come from each of the state’s 35 Senate districts and that at least 55 percent of voters support an issue for it to become law. Several of the proposals qualify that change so that it would not apply to repealing previously made changes to the Constitution, meaning that only 50 percent would be required to repeal things like legalized marijuana and the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

“I love Denver and Colorado Springs, but the rest of the state should have a voice when it comes to placing constitutional questions on the ballot, and as a practical matter, today, the rest of the state doesn’t,” Gibbs said. “We plan to seek signatures from all 35 state Senate districts ourselves to meet this new higher threshold for qualifying for the ballot.”

The sponsors will likely narrow the proposed initiatives down to one before gathering signatures to put the issue on the November ballot.

The issue is one of several floated by Building a Better Colorado, a group of civic leaders who held more than two dozen meetings across the state to gauge public interest in ballot proposals for 2016. A spokesman for Building a Better Colorado said other issues addressed by the group in those meetings could be introduced for November’s ballot. Those issues included amending or repealing portions of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, changing the state’s caucus process to be a primary system more inclusive of independent voters, and changing term limits.

But Brophy and Democrat Dan Gibbs, a former state Senator, are launching the first initiative to come from the Building a Better Colorado process.

“Raising the bar on amending our state constitution was one of the most popular ideas we heard in our outreach with people from across the state, and we’re eager to see that idea move forward,” said Reeves Brown, project director. “Building a Better Colorado continues to review policy options around the state’s financial future and other structures of government, and will address those issues in greater detail in the near future.”

Colorado has one of the country’s easiest state constitutions to amend, and both Democrats and Republicans bemoan the fact that seemingly anyone with the money (commonly rumored to cost around $100,000) can get the required signatures to take a ballot proposal to voters. Then it requires a simple majority of participating voters to make the amendment law.

The petition language submitted Tuesday night to the Colorado Legislative Council Staff must go through a review and comment meeting before going to the Secretary of State’s Office for title setting. The group can then begin collecting signatures to put the issues on the ballot.

The five proposed petitions are all variations of the same idea: require at least some signatures come from each of the state’s 35 Senate districts and that at least 55 percent of voters support an issue for it to become law. Several of the proposals qualify that change so that it would not apply to repealing previously made changes to the Constitution, meaning that only 50 percent would be required to repeal things like legalized marijuana and the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

“I love Denver and Colorado Springs, but the rest of the state should have a voice when it comes to placing constitutional questions on the ballot, and as a practical matter, today, the rest of the state doesn’t,” Gibbs said. “We plan to seek signatures from all 35 state Senate districts ourselves to meet this new higher threshold for qualifying for the ballot.”

The sponsors will likely narrow the proposed initiatives down to one before gathering signatures to put the issue on the November ballot.

Contact Megan Schrader: 286-0644

Twitter @CapitolSchrader

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