Jerry Kopel

KOPEL: PRESENT SYSTEM EMASCULATES CONSTITUTIONAL DISGRACE

Ref. O would revise petition requirements

What will happen to your vote and the credibility of your signature in future elections if Referendum O becomes part of the state constitution?

Here’s a brief analysis by the Legislative Council staff, supplemented with additional information in parenthesis.The numbers are based on current census figures and explain the impact of the referendum using that data.

• Decreases the number of signatures required to place a statutory initiative on the ballot (from 76,047 to 62,331).

• Increases the number of signatures required to place a constitutional initiative on the ballot (from 76,047 to 93,497).

• Requires that 8 percent of signatures for constitutional initiatives be gathered from each congressional district. (Eight percent would be 7,480 in each of the seven districts for a total of 52,360, plus 41,137 more signatures from anywhere in Colorado.)

• Requires that constitutional initiatives be submitted earlier in the year (March 8 instead of the second half of April).

• Extends the time period for collecting signatures for statutory initiatives (from six months to nine months).

• Increases the number of votes required for the Legislature to amend a statutory initiative for five years after its passage (calling for a two-thirds majority of the House and Senate rather than the current simple majority to amend, repeal or supersede a statutory initiative).

• Allows the public and the Legislature to comment on proposed initiatives.

Referendum O began life as Senate Concurrent Resolution 003 by Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, and Rep. Al White, R-Hayden. There are some possible, obviously unintentional, problems with the language.

Consider the word “supersede” which means, “obliterate, set aside, annul, replace, make void, inefficacious or useless, repeal, to put a person or thing in the place of, to supplant.”

Suppose the initiated statute concerns legal holidays. That statute is CRS 24-11-101. Suppose a bill passed by a simple majority of the House and Senate redefines “legal holiday” to include “Ralph Carr Day,” which was not a legal holiday when the statutory initiative Referendum O passed. Does the word “supersede” come into play?

The exact wording is “the General Assembly shall not amend, repeal or supersede any law enacted by an initiative for a period of five years after the law becomes effective unless approved by a vote of two-thirds of all members elected to each house.”

A court may have to decide whether that means the holiday applies in all other situations, but not when it would otherwise refer to the initiated statute. Or does it mean the Ralph Carr holiday is void if that bill is not enacted by a two-thirds vote?

Under Referendum O, citizens continue to have the privilege of an initiative to amend, repeal or supersede a prior statute enacted by initiative. Will the original initiative have a new “no change” five-year immunity as to language not amended by the newer initiative?

One argument against Referendum O refers to collecting 8 percent of the signatures from each congressional district. The opponents say this would be impossible if there were 13 congressional seats (13 times eight equals 104 percent). For Colorado to have 13 congressional districts, its population would have to more than double, and there would be ample time for a constitutional change to be placed on the ballot to reduce the 8 percent to a smaller percentage.

My opinion? It’s worth trying. The present system is a constitutional disgrace. If Referendum O doesn’t work, the two-thirds needed to place a constitutional measure on the ballot provides the Legislature with the ability to render it harmless.

Next week, Referendums M and N.

Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.