Foundation of a Great State: The Future of Colorado's Constitution
Summary of Recommendations
Recommendation 1: Retain Process for Referred Amendments
The panel finds that the legislative referral process for constitutional amendments functions well and does not require revision. Thus, the panel recommends that the process for legislatively referred constitutional amendments remain intact.
Recommendation 2: Preserve the Right of Citizen Initiative
The ability of citizens to introduce statutes or amendments to the constitution through direct petition is, to many, a cherished right, and one that the panel supports. The panel recommends that the right of citizen initiative be retained; with modifications to the processes for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments and special protections for citizen-initiated statutes.
Recommendation 3: Strengthen Citizen-Initiated Statutes
While there is no effective means of changing or removing a constitutional amendment once enacted, a statute can be revised if necessary to take account of changing conditions. Since the only certainty is change, the panel considers the flexibility of initiated statutes to be very desirable compared to the rigidity of locking policy provisions into the constitution. For this reason, the panel believes that the right of statutory initiative is important to the citizens of Colorado and recommends that the right of statutory initiative be preserved in its present form and strengthened. Compared to the rigidity of locking policy provisions into the constitution. For this reason, the panel believes that the right of statutory initiative is important to the citizens of Colorado and recommends that the right of statutory initiative be preserved in its present form and strengthened.
Recommendation 5: Maintain Thresholds for Initiated Statutes
Colorado has the lowest signature burden for initiative petitions of any state and requires only a simple majority to adopt a statutory or constitutional initiative. Raising the number of signatures required placing an item on the ballot or requiring a super-majority vote for the passage of an initiative are ideas that have been offered. In listening to constitutional experts, the panel is persuaded that increasing the number of signatures needed or requiring a super-majority election vote is not likely to reduce the number of petitions from large, well-funded special interests. Rather, the ones disadvantaged would be local grass-roots organizations. Therefore, the panel recommends that the current number of signatures required for statutory initiatives and the simple majority requirement for voter approval both remain unchanged.
Recommendation 6 : Reform Initiated Constitutional Amendment Process
Constitutions are foundational documents that affect the lives of all citizens and the operation of every organization. As such, they should be changeable, but not easily changed. Any time a constitutional change is presented, every effort should be made to assure that the proposal receives careful consideration and the public receives accurate, balanced information To achieve these goals, the panel recommends that Colorado adopt a process for initiated constitutional amendments that requires petitioners to engage with elected representatives of the people while protecting the petitioners' absolute right to have citizens vote on their proposal after public hearings. The panel calls this the Colorado Legislative Engagement and Referral (CLEAR) process and believes it reflects the traditions of openness and collaboration that underlie the culture of our state.
Recommendation 7: Broaden Thresholds for Constitutional Initiatives
Because of the concern that real Colorado-based grass-roots organizations not be disadvantaged relative to large national special interest groups, the panel does not recommend increasing either the number of signatures required or changing the simple majority vote required, even for constitutional initiatives. At the same time, because constitutional amendments can have a profound effect upon citizens and businesses throughout the state, the panel is concerned that citizens throughout Colorado, not just those on the more populous Front Range, be represented in the initiative process. With this in mind, the panel recommends that petition signatures for initiatives to amend the Colorado Constitution must be collected from a majority of Colorado's congressional districts. The formula for this distribution will need to be determined, however it is the panel's intent to assure that Colorado citizens from throughout the state be included in the process of initiated constitutional amendments.
Recommendation 8: Expand Voter Information
Providing voters with accurate, balanced information on proposed constitutional amendments is a primary objective of several of the panel's recommendations. The panel commends the Colorado Legislative Council for its efforts to inform voters through the Blue Book and urges the legislature to continue supporting the council's activities. In addition to the information provided by the state of Colorado, the panel recommends a more extensive, independent analysis of the implications of proposed constitutional amendments, especially tax measures or proposals with broad applicability. To that end, the panel recommends that private, independent nonprofit organizations are encouraged to conduct analyses of initiated or referred proposals and share their conclusions with the public.
Recommendation 9: Show Fiscal-Impact Analysis on Ballot
The Colorado Legislative Council currently provides a fiscal analysis of proposed amendments as a part of its Blue Book analysis for voters. The panel believes the fiscal analysis should also appear, in summary fashion, on the ballot alongside the proposal. Therefore, the panel recommends that all proposed constitutional amendments and statutory initiatives be accompanied by a fiscal-impact statement, copies of which shall be made available at the CLEAR legislative hearings and a summarized version of which also appear on the ballot alongside the proposal. The panel believes that full disclosure of the financial implications associated with a proposal is in the interest of all voters.
Recommendation 10: Call for a Constitutional Convention Unnecessary
There is little questioning that Colorado needs a method for periodically revising its constitution. A constitutional convention is one way of dealing with the multiple subjects required in a constitutional revision process, but it is not the only means of doing so. The panel shares the concerns of those who are reluctant to open up the entire constitution to the possibility of wholesale rewriting. For that reason, the panel recommends against convening a constitutional convention at this point in Colorado's history.
Recommendation 11: Use of a Limited Constitutional Convention Unclear
It is not at all clear whether Colorado could legally call a constitutional convention that was limited to one or more predefined subjects. However, both limited and unlimited conventions are very difficult to convene, requiring super-majority votes in both houses and multiple elections. While a limited convention may be more appealing than an open convention, the panel believes that the use of a Constitutional Revision Commission is a better solution. It has the advantage of providing regular, periodic review and making recommendations to voters, without the potential liability of making wholesale changes to the constitution. Therefore the panel recommends against using a limited constitutional convention format in favor of the more desirable Constitutional Revision Commission
Recommendation 12: Establish a Constitutional Revision Commission
The panel finds that the state of Colorado would be well served by the existence of a periodic Constitutional Revision Commission with the ability to take proposals relating to a limited number of articles directly to the voters. Such a commission will provide the opportunity for broad periodic review without the danger of wholesale constitutional revision. The Constitutional Revision Commission would not be limited to single-subject revisions; rather it could address the real-world issues of interrelated constitutional provisions. The panel recommends that Colorado adopt an amendment to our constitution to create a Constitutional Revision Commission that meets periodically to provide a review of the constitution and recommend proposed changes directly to the voters. The CRC would exist by constitutional provision that would require a commission to be created every 10 years. Politically representative in nature, the commission would be empowered to look at the constitution broadly and take recommended changes directly to voters for their consideration.