By The Daily Sentinel Editorial Board February 9, 2016
February 9, 2016
(reprinted in the Fort Collins Coloradoan—http://www.coloradoan.com/story/opinion/2016/02/11/editorial-easy-amend-colorado-constitution/80204138/)
Colorado is currently one of 18 states where citizens can bypass the legislature and place proposed constitutional amendments directly on the ballot.
That’s an important right because it gives citizens direct access to the lawmaking process. If lawmakers ignore the wishes of constituents, voters have some recourse. But some people, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, think Colorado’s Constitution is too easy to amend.
We agree. Voters can use a citizen-initiative process to change both state law and the Constitution. In most circumstances we think statutory changes are more appropriate than altering the Constitution, which should be reserved for bedrock principles. But over the years, our state Constitution has been amended so often it’s become an unwieldy document full of contradictions.
When poorly written ballot language or unforseen outcomes conflict with other constitutional provisions, the only fix is to go back to voters. Statutory changes can be fixed by the Legislature. Having a higher threshold to amend the Constitution makes sense since the stakes are higher.
A bipartisan group called Building a Better Colorado has filed proposed ballot measures that affect both the signature-gathering process to get constitutional changes on the ballot and the percentage of votes needed for approval.
Their plan would require signatures for newly-proposed constitutional amendments to be collected in all 35 state senate districts before they qualify for the ballot. At least 2 percent of the required numer of signatures would come from each district. Once qualified, new constitutional provisions would need to receive 55 percent of the vote, rather than a simple majority, to be approved.
The geographic distribution of signatures is especially important to western Colorado and rural areas. Currently, petitioners can get amendments on the ballot by gathering signatures without leaving the Denver metro area.
“Our constitution has become a special interest playground because the bar to amend it is so spectacularly, inexplicably, unthinkingly low,” said Greg Brophy, a former Republican state senator.
Hickenlooper, a Democrat, ruffled some feathers recently when he told the Colorado Forum that a proposed amendment to create universal health care in Colorado had stifled the relocation of large health care-related companies.
“So I know you guys are looking at why is everything so easy to get on the ballot, I’ll carry that flag in a second,” the governor said, according to Complete Colorado, which filed an Open Records Act request to obtain audio recordings of the governor’s Jan. 6 remarks.
The bar to change the Constitution should be higher. What Building a Better Colorado is proposing only affects future amendments to the Colorado Constitution and not citizen-initiated statutory proposals or the Colorado General Assembly’s referred statute changes.