Editorial: Make it harder to amend state Constitution
The Colorado Constitution is too easy to amend, opening the door to bad policy that’s hard to fix.
Later this week, an organization called Raise the Bar will formally kick off its drive to gather enough signatures to put on the November ballot an amendment to make it more difficult, but not too difficult, to change the state’s foundational document.
We urge voters to sign the petition and, assuming the amendment gets on the ballot, to vote for its passage.
Constitutions are meant to be guiding documents, not statute books full of narrow detail. Merriam Webster defines “constitution” this way: “A body of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is acknowledged to be governed.”
Clearly in Colorado’s 152 amendments, we have strayed. Legal marijuana isn’t exactly a fundamental principal in governing the state. (Let’s note quickly that this is not an editorial opposing or even about marijuana. We are not calling for repeal. We’d just like to see a lid on pouring things that should be statutes into the state’s guiding principles.)
Amendment 65 is another odd one, directing the Colorado congressional delegation to propose and support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution allowing Congress and the states to limit campaign contributions and spending. That’s a fine idea, but the provision in our state’s guiding document telling members of Congress what to do has all the force of a letter to the editor.
This stuff just isn’t what a constitution is for.
The number of amendments being proposed and submitted to voters has spiked in recent years, and some believe Colorado has become a target for national groups seeking to win approval for such things as barring genetically modified food or legal marijuana.
That’s almost beside the point. Whether a proposal is generated from Colorado grassroots or from a rich national group, the Colorado Constitution is still too easy to junk up with things that don’t belong there.
The Raise the Bar effort — which has bipartisan support — calls for reasonable changes.
Now, it is easier for the public to initiate and approve a constitutional amendment than it is for the Legislature.
To get an amendment on the ballot, supporters must gather signatures of qualified residents equal to 5 percent of the ballots cast in the most recent election for secretary of state — this year, that’s 98,422 signatures. They can all be gathered on the 16th Street Mall in Denver and Pearl Street in Boulder by paid canvassers — the best signatures money can buy. Not a single signature from west of the Continental Divide is needed.
If the petition drive is successful, the amendment becomes part of the Constitution if a simple majority of voters approves.
For an amendment started by the Legislature to win approval, it must get two-thirds approval in both chambers, and then is submitted to the people for a vote.
Raise the Bar’s plan would make two changes:
1. It would require geographic diversity by requiring supporters to gather signatures from 2 percent of registered voters in each of the state’s 35 Senate districts. This ensures that rural residents have a voice. As things are, a Front Range interest group can propose a narrow amendment, gather all signatures on the Interstate 25 corridor and carry the election with voter support from there, perhaps affecting water or energy use on the Western Slope.
2. Once on the ballot, a proposed amendment would need 55 percent support to be approved. (Relax; the marijuana amendment would have passed.)
The proposal does not change the 50 percent requirement for repealing an amendment.
It does not change existing amendments.
It does not change the process for citizen initiative to propose or approve a new law — which is where many initiatives belong.
It does not deprive residents of the ability to initiate a constitutional change; it merely creates a higher standard to change the state’s foundational, guiding document.
We also are impressed and gratified that the advocates of the proposal come from both parties. Former Republican state Sen. Greg Brophy and Democrat Dan Gibbs, a Summit County commissioner and former state lawmaker, are the campaign’s designated citizen proponents.
Sign the petition if you get a chance. It does protect Western Slope interests and does bring a measure of reason to constitutional change.
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