Legislative Blitzkrieg Against Colorado Petition Rights Kicks Up (Another) Notch
Colorado legislators have ramped up their war against petition rights, bringing a new attack on citizens in the stealth of the night. As the Denver Post notes here and here, the story with Colorado’s citizen initiative process is that it might be dead; the victim of a 2009 legislative hatchet job, parts of which state officials have admitted are unconstitutional. You can read all about it here.
Instead of owning up to their mistakes and addressing these problems, leadership in both chambers and among both parties - including House Speaker Frank McNulty, pictured at right - decided to get behind even more restrictions on citizen initiatives in the form of Senate Concurrent Resolution 1. Worse yet, they introduced the bill late last night (Tuesday) and scheduled a hearing for the very next day (today, Wednesday), thus preventing citizens from having ample time to examine the legislation.
Colorado Common Cause released a statement criticizing the General Assembly for failing to give proper public notice:
“Introducing SCR11-01 on Tuesday and scheduling its first hearing for Wednesday afternoon deprives Coloradans of adequate opportunity to study and comment on the proposal. The rushed timeline so early in the legislative session suggests that the General Assembly is looking to stifle debate.
We are disappointed that the General Assembly has decided that this critically important conversation does not deserve full participation from the Coloradans they represent.
It is unfortunate that the General Assembly doesn’t believe that the conversation about Colorado’s initiative process—and their ideas to limit citizens’ use of that process—should happen with full input from all interested parties.”
SCR-1 has been dubbed the “Son of Referendum O,” referring to a similar amendment rejected by voters in 2008. If passed, SCR-1 would:
• Require a 60 percent supermajority vote to pass constitutional amendments
• Require a geographic distribution of petition signatures: 70 percent of the signatures required would have to be collected in each congressional district
• Allow a simple majority of voters to repeal constitutional amendments passed before 2013
• Require a 2/3 vote of the legislature to change, repeal or supersede statutes passed by initiative for three years after passage.
The bill has 13 co-sponsors in the Senate and 46 in the House, and leadership of both parties and both chambers are included. As we pointed out when legislators tried to run the same restrictions last year, a supermajority requirement allows a minority of voters to hold Colorado’s constitution hostage, even in cases where a majority of voters support a proposed change. The American electoral standard is a level playing field where either side of an issue need only get 50 percent plus one to win. SCR-1 throws simple democratic principles out the window to create a tyranny of the minority. Likewise, distribution requirements allow voters in one portion of the state to hold up changes favored by most Coloradans.
While SCR-1 does make it harder for the legislature to tamper with voter-approved statutory measures (something Citizens in Charge supports), the trade-off is the destruction of the constitutional amendment process – a very bad deal for citizens. Furthermore, similar “voter protection laws,” such as in Arizona and California, are much tougher than this proposed 2/3 requirement for legislative repeal. Moreover, the three-year period of protection is very short, indeed, making the value of SCR-1 weak, at best, while the harms are severe.