Raise the bar or bar the door

In a situation filled with irony, Colorado voters are being asked to use the ease of changing the state Constitution, to make it more difficult to change the Constitution.

Since changing the constitution is a political activity for which Colorado folks have a fondness—they have changed their constitution about 150 times since it was adopted—why would they now want to tie their own hands by passing Amendment 71?

Least there be any doubt about the power behind Amendment 71, the campaign supporting the amendment is financed by an organization called Protect Colorado which contributed $1 million to get Amendment 71 on the ballot.

Called the “Raise the Bar” effort by its supporters, Amendment 71, would make it more difficult for Colorado voters to change their constitution by citizen’s initiatives. It would increase the number of signatures required to qualify a measure for the ballot from a simple majority to a supermajority of 55 percent.

The amendment also requires the signatures supporting a proposed amendment be collected from all 35 state Senate districts, equal to at least 2 percent of registered voters in each district.

While increasing the requirement to pass a constitutional amendment to 55 percent, Amendment 71 leaves the requirement to repeal an existing amendment at 50 percent.

Proponents claim Amendment 71 is necessary to make it more difficult for any special interest groups to use the ballot to write their interests into the constitution. A higher barrier, they contend, would force petitioners to pass less binding statutory changes.

Amendment 71 supporters fail to mention that the reason Colorado voters so frequently turn to constitutional amendments to protect their interests may be because, historically, legislatures routinely have overturned statutory changes passed by petition when their protection lapses after five years.

Opponents of Amendment 71 argue that the new rules would increase the cost of collecting signatures for citizen initiatives, making it cost prohibitive for ordinary citizens to put initiatives on the ballot.

Meantime, it would be easier to remove from the state constitution laws already adopted by previous citizens’ petitions, than to add new ones. The requirement to repeal an amendment would remain at 50 percent, while adding a new provision would require 55 percent voter approval.

While promoting their own welfare through making it more difficult to petition measures onto the ballot to rein in the abuses of oil and gas drilling and fracking in communities, the oil and gas propaganda machine, successfully kept two other citizen initiated petitions addressing energy impacts on Colorado communities from making the ballot in 2016.

With the failure of initiatives 75 and 78 to qualify for the November ballot, Colorado voters lost their best opportunity yet to to make their voice heard on the future of energy development in the state.

Initiative 75 would have invalidated a Colorado Supreme Court ruling that restricted the moratoria on fracking adopted by local communities. If passed, it would have granted power to local community governments to regulate energy development and fracking within their borders.

Initiative 78 would have increased the required setback distance between oil and gas operations and homes, schools, parks and similar structures to a mandatory minimum of 2,500 feet.

According to the secretary of state, neither of these initiatives received the necessary number of valid registered voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. This failure was largely the result of a “decline to sign” advertising campaign by an oil and gas front group.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association interpreted the failure of these initiatives as a rejection by voters of their opportunity to settle these issues at the ballot box. They offer no suggestion as to how the questions of local control over energy development in communities should be resolved.

The fact that initiatives 75 and 78 will not be on the ballot this November does nothing to settle the growing tensions between Colorado communities and the oil and gas industry that threatens to invade communities to frack oil wells near homes and schools and parks.

Passing Amendment 71 will make it more difficult for citizens to amend the Colorado constitution, and give more power to special interests like oil and gas to impose their agenda on helpless communities. Voters who want to protect their homes and communities from invasion by oil and gas will vote against Amendment 71.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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