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New rules for Colorado voter initiatives?

Colleen Slevin
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” A bipartisan group of Colorado lawmakers said Thursday they want to change the rules for voter initiatives to encourage voters to pass state laws rather than amend the state constitution.

Right now, getting a constitutional amendment on the ballot is just as easy as putting a statutory change before voters. Both require that supporters collect 5 percent of all the votes cast in the last secretary of state’s election. Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, who led an effort to review the process, said members would like to raise the bar for constitutional amendments and base it on the number of votes cast in the previous governor’s race instead.

Under the proposal being drafted, groups that want to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot would have to collect a number of signatures equal to 6 percent of the votes cast in the last governor’s race. This year, that would be about 93,000 signatures compared with the currently required 76,000.



They would also have get a minimum number of signatures in each of Colorado’s seven congressional districts to make sure there’s statewide support for the measure. Each district must account for at least 10 percent of the signature total.

Signature gatherers can be paid and Tapia said rural lawmakers were concerned that the current system allows them to just focus on Denver to meet the threshold rather than get support from voters in less populated parts of the state.




Under the proposal, people who want a statute changes would only have to collect signatures equal to 4 percent of votes in the governor’s race, 1,400 fewer than the current 76,000 standard.

Advocacy groups usually pursue a constitutional amendment because the Legislature can’t change it, but lawmakers complain that keeps them from making changes that may be needed over time.

Under the new proposal, lawmaker wouldn’t be able to change a law passed by voters for six years unless by a two-thirds vote, which typically means there would have to be bipartisan support.

Voters would have the final say on these rules changes. Two-thirds of the House and Senate would have to approve it to send it this fall’s ballot.

The lawmakers who recommended the change agreed there was too much “clutter” that doesn’t deserve to be enshrined in the constitution, even if it merits being in the statute books. It’s been amended 114 times since the initiative process began in 1910 and includes everything from ban on the detonation of nuclear devices and limits on wildlife trapping to campaign finance limits.

However, members stopped short of doing anything about the two most controversial amendments that limit how the state budget can be spent. Amendment 23 requires lawmakers to increase spending for education each year and the Taxpayers Bill of Rights limits tax dollars the state can keep and keeps the budget from growing more than 6 percent a year.

Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, said he didn’t want to open up that issue because he thinks the move to reform the constitution is being pushed by think tanks that favor weakening of TABOR.

Rep. Al White, R-Hayden, said he wished the group had gone further. He said there were still a lot of problems with the constitution and he compared the group’s review of it to eating a $3 steak.

“The more we have chewed it, the bigger it gets in your mouth,” he said.