Ballot reform makes a comeback

State lawmakers plan to make constitution harder to change

DENVER – Legislators plan to ask voters once again to make it harder to amend the state constitution.

Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, plans to sponsor the bill. Currently, it takes a simple majority of voters to pass a constitutional change, but Shaffer’s bill could require something more than a 50 percent margin, said House Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo.

Republicans and Democrats are trying to arrange bipartisan sponsorship for the plan in the House, Pace said.

This isn’t the first time the Legislature has tried to protect the state’s basic law from additional amendments.

In 2008, the Legislature put Referendum O on the ballot. It would have required campaigns to gather more petition signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. Voters rejected it 53 percent to 47 percent.

But Ref O easily passed the Legislature on a 27-8 vote in the Senate and a 58-6 vote in the House.

Sen.-elect Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, was a sponsor of Ref O and active in the election campaign.

“I think it’s a very good conversation for us to be having again,” Roberts said. “In terms of the political chances of it, I think they’re probably better.”

Fundraising was one of the Ref O campaign’s biggest problems, Roberts said. But last year, businesses and unions spent more than $6 million in their successful fight against three initiatives that would have greatly restricted taxes, debt and public finances.

Roberts hopes the new referendum will require petition signatures to be gathered throughout the state. Currently, a campaign can gather all its signatures in Denver or another large population center.

“The whole point is not to shut down the ballot initiative process but to raise the bar,” Roberts said.

The proposal makes an exemption for partial or total repeals of amendments adopted before 2011, said Carol Hedges of the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute. Hedges has not seen a copy of the plan, but she heard it described.

It’s an important question for Hedges, who is coordinating a ballot initiative to amend the constitution to create a five-bracket income tax system and extend sales taxes to services. The initiative was thrown out on a technicality by the state board that approves ballot initiatives, and Hedges is not sure whether she will try again this election cycle.

Other ballot reformers want to amend or repeal contradictory parts of the constitution that require lower taxes and higher spending.

On Thursday, incoming Gov. John Hickenlooper’s new budget chief, Henry Sobanet, told a conservative Republican group that Coloradans must untangle three constitutional amendments – the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which limits revenue; the Gallagher amendment, which reduces property taxes on homes; and Amendment 23, which requires higher spending on schools.

jhanel@durango herald.com

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