Make it harder to amend Constitution

The Colorado Constitution was amended in 1910 to add the initiative process, which lets citizens sponsor proposed new state laws or proposed amendments to the state Constitution, and submit them to a vote of the public.

In theory, this makes our state Constitution an organic and responsive document, constantly adapting to the wants of the people. The reality, however, is less ideal.

We have a bulky state Constitution (eight times as long as the U.S. Constitution, according to pollster Floyd Ciruli & Associates) that is one of the easiest among the states to amend. It also contains a number of contradictory provisions, and concepts that seem more suited as state laws than constitutional pillars.

That is why we support a resolution in the Legislature that would ask voters to rein in the ease with which the Colorado Constitution can be tinkered.

This is nothing new. Versions of ballot measures to make it harder to amend the Constitution have come and gone in recent years. Referendum O in 2008 came close. It lost by fewer than 3 percentage points, but lawmakers have consistently agreed that changes are needed.

The argument for making it harder to alter the Constitution is simple. If there’s a error in the ballot language or some unforeseen conflict with other provisions, the only way to change it is to go back to the voters (as we saw with the measure to legalize marijuana and a second measure a year later to tax it). If it’s merely a statutory change, the Legislature is empowered to fix any issues that might arise.

Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, has introduced House Concurrent Resolution 2. It has the support of numerous Republicans, including Reps. Ray Scott and Jared Wright.

Court’s measure has several key provisions:

√ It focuses only on proposed constitutional amendments. The process to get citizen initiatives on the ballot to change state law will be unaffected.

√ It changes petition-gathering laws so that an equal number of signatures come from each of the state’s seven congressional districts. This 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.

√ It allows 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 increases in education spending.

√ It doubles the number of signatures currently needed to get on the ballot. This serves as an “awareness” rider.

“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,” Court said. We agree.

We believe voters should have the authority to mandate change at the ballot box. But in most circumstances, we think statutory changes are more appropriate than constitutional changes. Hopefully, this measure will drive people in that direction and help them understand the distinction.


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