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Fewer amendments, more trust

A move intended to modify the process used to amend the Colorado Constitution made progress early this week at the Statehouse in Denver.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 1 made its way from the Senate’s State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee to the Colorado Senate floor for debate by a 3-2 vote split along party lines — three Democrats voting yes.

SCR 1, sponsored by Senate President Brandon Shaffer (a Democrat) and Sen. Nancy Spence (a Republican) seeks first to raise the number of votes needed to amend the Constitution by petition to 60 percent. It now is a simple majority.

Further, SCR 1 seeks to spread the signatures on petitions required to put an amendment initiative on the ballot more evenly across the state’s seven congressional districts, requiring 10 percent of accepted signatures on a petition to come from each of the districts.

The proposed legislation would allow a simple majority at the polls to repeal amendments passed before 2013.

Last among the important changes proposed by the resolution would be that the Colorado Legislature could make changes to a voter-approved initiative (with a two-thirds vote) three years after the initiative becomes law.

Why propose these changes?

First is the fact our Constitution has been modified more than 150 times, and there are those who believe a Constitution is a foundation document, -one that should remain fairly simple, and seldom modified, with the bulk of changes to the state’s legal system occurring as modifications to statutory law – a way in which changes can be made quickly by our elected representatives. Constitutional amendments, on the other hand, stand as stone, to be changed only through great effort and expense, via the same process by which many were born. Thus, the provision for the simple majority needed for change.

Expense is also a factor. How much money has been spent promoting or fighting proposed amendments to the Colorado Constitution? Could that money have been spent far more effectively on other issues and projects? Some say nearly $180 million has been spent on ballot initiatives between 2000 and now.

There are those who argue that “government” fear is manifest in resolutions such as SCR 1, that entrenched bureaucracies and elected officials are, in fact, afraid of the public and wish to reduce the power or ordinary citizens to enact law.

We do not believe this is the case.

First, members of the public can petition to have ballot issues put before the electorate to change statutory law. SCR 1 deals only with the amendment of the Constitution.

Second, and we believe more important, is the fact that, in a representative government, we elect individuals to act in our stead, to be the embodiment of the citizens who send them to the Statehouse. Given our election processes are clean, and the intent of our representatives is to fairly and accurately reflect their constituents, the real issue is the trust the public has for those who are elected to serve. We believe that, rather than spend time and money to amend the constitution and retain a major obstacle in the way of modification of such law, we need to turn our attention to improving the manner in which we elect representatives. We need to deal with issues such as term limitation, campaign finance and campaign spending by corporations and out-of-state interests. We need to press our legislators to devise ways to illuminate the sources of campaign funds and to relay that information to the public.

We say pass SRC 1, then work to forge trust between citizens and legislators in a move that refreshes, refines and revitalizes representative government.

Karl Isberg

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