Legislators aim to curb changes to Constitution

DENVER — The framers of the Colorado Constitution would be appalled at the number of times the state’s founding document has been altered, Senate President Brandon Shaffer told a Senate committee Monday.

That’s why the Legislature should place a question on next year’s ballot to make it harder to change that document, the Longmont Democrat said.

Shaffer and Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, two of numerous co-sponsors of a proposed referendum aimed at protecting the integrity of the Constitution, said that document has been changed about 150 times since Colorado became a state in 1876, with most of those changes coming in recent years.

“In the past 44 years, 81 constitutional amendments have been approved. This compares to just 73 measures during the prior 88 years,” Spence said. “Unless something changes, Colorado will experience more amendments with the likelihood of more conflicting provisions, more unintended consequences and more statute-like policy detailed in the Constitution.”

Though a coalition of 59 legislators have signed onto the proposal from both parties, the Senate State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee approved it on a 3-2 party-line vote.

The two Republicans on the panel, Sens. Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, and Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, said it went too far.

Under the measure, future proposed amendments to the Constitution must be approved by 60 percent of the voters, rather than a simple majority. Additionally, the measure would require at least 5 percent of signatures of registered voters to get such measures on the ballot be from each of the state’s seven congressional districts.

Currently, those signatures can come from anywhere in the state.

The proposed question, which would be placed on next year’s ballot, also includes an incentive that citizen initiatives be statutory changes instead. It would require a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to alter statutory changes for at least three years after they’ve been approved by voters. Currently, the Legislature needs a simple majority to alter a proposition after it’s been approved.

Proponents say the changes are needed to prevent the heavily populated Front Range from dictating what gets on the ballot.

Opponents, however, said the only groups that would suffer from such restrictions would be grass-roots organizations that have little money to pay petition gatherers or campaign advertising.

“I have never had a clamor at any of the dozens of town meetings that I’ve been to, people have never asked me to rescind that right to access the ballot regardless of whether it was a constitutional issue or a statute,” Cadman said. “I don’t see them coming to the Legislature saying, ‘Will you protect us from ourselves.’ Usually they come to me saying, ‘Will you protect us from those guys that you work with.’ “

The proposal heads to the full Senate for more debate.


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