Lawmakers to again consider raising threshold for ballot measures
DENVER — State lawmakers will try once again to place a measure onto the ballot to change the way ballot measures get onto the ballot.
Rep. Lois Court said she’s hopeful this time Colorado voters will agree that something needs to be done to protect the state’s Constitution from contradictory proposals that oftentimes aren’t written well, or have far-reaching unintended consequences.
The Denver Democrat, who is one of a long line of lawmakers regardless of political ilk to attempt such changes, hopes this effort will be more successful than previous attempts.
Unlike those efforts, including Referendum O in 2008 that lost by less than 3 percentage points, Court’s new idea would make only a few changes, and focuses only on proposed constitutional amendments.
Her measure, House Concurrent Resolution 2, would alter petition-gathering laws, requiring an equal amount coming from each of the state’s seven congressional districts and doubling the amount of signatures needed currently to get onto the ballot.
“To me the first thing that is a priority is to the geographic distribution of signatures,” Court said. “Rural Colorado should not be ignored when we’re changing the Constitution. The fact that you can (under current law) change the Constitution by getting all your signatures right here in the Denver metro area is wrong to me.”
Under current law, the only time petition gatherers must get signatures in each congressional district is for candidates seeking statewide offices, such as governor or secretary of state.
The measure, which Court hopes to get onto this fall’s ballot, also would double the number of signatures required. Currently, state law requires petitions to have at least 5 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last secretary of state’s race.
As of now, that figure stands as 86,104, meaning petitions would need more than 172,000 signatures if the measure were already in place.
“The second priority is more citizen awareness that something is a constitutional change, and that’s the reason for changing the number of signatures,” Court said. “The argument is ... having more people aware that they are agreeing to a change to the Constitution before it gets to the ballot seems to me to be beneficial for the state.”
Previous efforts not only attempted to make it harder to alter the Constitution, but also make it easier to approve ballot measures that enact state statutes.
Court’s measure doesn’t do that, but it does allow for the current petitioning rules to be used to alter constitutional provisions that voters already have approved, such as the Taxpayers Bill of Rights and Amendment 23, which called for automatic increases in education spending.
Court, who introduced the measure with Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, has wide support for the measure in the House already, including 15 Republicans. Currently, 48 of the 65 members there are co-sponsoring it, including Reps. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction; Jared Wright, R-Fruita; Millie Hamner, D-Dillon; and Bob Rankin, R-Glenwood Springs.
Additionally, Republican Sen. Larry Crowder of Alamosa and Democratic Sen. Gail Schwartz of Snowmass Village are to jointly sponsor it in the Senate if it gets that far.
The proposal is to receive its first hearing in the House State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee today.