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Proposal would make Colorado Constitution changes harder Ease of amending document has created conflicts

By Peter Marcus
February 23, 2016

DENVER – Coloradans could be asked this November to make it more difficult to amend the state constitution.

A bipartisan group has submitted ballot language stemming from a statewide listening tour, in which voters were asked their thoughts on budget and elections issues.

The Building a Better Colorado coalition underscored conflicts within the state constitution, which some attribute to how easy it is to amend the document.

 

Only 98,492 signatures are required to make the ballot, with a simple majority to pass an initiative.

Under the proposed ballot question, signatures would need to be collected in all 35 state Senate districts before they qualify for the ballot. Signatures would need to come from at least 2 percent of registered voters in each Senate district. Once qualified, new constitutional provisions would need to receive 55 percent of the vote to pass.

Existing provisions in the constitution could be repealed by the same simple majority.

Former state Sen. Greg Brophy, a Republican from Wray, said the idea is to give rural Colorado interests more of a voice when weighing issues originating from population-heavy Front Range cities.

“I’ve always felt like, as a rural community, we’ve always been subject to the whims of the Front Range, and I just don’t want them to use constitutional initiatives to subject us to their whims,” said Brophy, a lead proponent of the proposed change.

The ballot question would not alter the statutory proposition process. Statutory changes are easier to amend after an issue passes because language is not locked into the state constitution.

The ballot proposal has made for odd bedfellows, highlighting how the issue crosses political lines. Brophy is pushing the initiative along with Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs, a Democrat.

On the other side, interest groups often at odds with one another are likely to join together to oppose the effort. For example, the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute may join with left-leaning Common Cause to fight the proposal.

For such interest groups and think tanks, the constitutional amendment route is often a preferred choice for advancing issues.

“It all comes down to this – should the ballot be reserved only for people with a lot of money?” asked Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, calling out Dan Ritchie, the Republican chairman of Building a Better Colorado and former chancellor of the University of Denver.

“For a guy like me, who has put several things on the ballot, yes, this is a huge hurdle,” added Caldara, who pointed to the high cost of collecting signatures.

In a statement, Reeves Brown, project director for Building a Better Colorado, said Colorado voters appear ready for the change despite having rejected a similar idea in 2008.

“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,” Brown said.

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