Jerry Kopel

Aug. 14, 2005

By Jerry Kopel

It's hard to believe that more than a decade ago, there was debate in the legislature about whether the greenback trout's adoption as the state fish or whether the Square Dance's adoption as the state dance (including the French Ballroom Dance and the Virginia Reel) should have included a "safety clause" in the bills.
Legislators may have thought they had to move fast or someone would slip in a waltz at an official party in the Governor's mansion before the Square Dance bill became law.
This year the problem is still there. First example, the change in CRS 23 -51-101 first sentence: "(1) There is hereby established a college at Durango, to be known as Fort Lewis College, which shall be a public liberal arts college, with moderately selective admission standards." The work "moderately" was removed. Did removing "moderately" merit a safety clause?
Second example: A bill entitled "Nonsubstantive clarification of existing statutory procedures governing the lien allowed to a person for amounts connected with the care of an animal that is entrusted to the custody of such person". Did "nonsubstantive clarification" merit a safety clause?
Legislators, lobbyists, state and county officials know what a "safety clause" is, but the general public does not know.
When Colorado became a state, legislative bills did not contain a safety clause as the last paragraph of the bill. From 1876 to 1910 the state constitution provided no act passed by the legislature could take effect until 90 days after its passage unless there was a vote by two thirds of the House and Senate "in case of emergency" as so stated in the bill. So we had an "emergency clause".
In 1910 a safety clause was added in Article 5,  Section 1. The language as expressed in statutes was "The General Assembly hereby finds, determine and declares that this act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, and safety."
Sounds pretty serious. "Immediate preservation". "Public peace. health, and safety."
The constitution provided an exception for appropriation bills. They do not need a  safety clause and did not need an emergency clause.
The emergency clause was not eliminated in 1910. It stayed in the constitution until 1950, but why bother with an emergency clause two thirds vote when you can have a safety clause with a majority vote and not need to wait 90 days?
How does the failure to have a safety clause work?
In plain English, there is a 90 day period after the legislature adjourns. Voters can sign a petition to repeal the bill or specific portions of the bill. To be valid, a petition needs a number of signatures equal to five percent of the votes cast for all candidates in the last general election for secretary of state. Today, that is 67,828 valid signatures.
If a petition is valid, the bill goes on to the November ballot. Citizens must approve the legislative bill by a majority vote. If a petition doesn't get the required signatures, the bill becomes law 91 days after the legislature adjourns.
For about 60 years, the safety clause was continuously used without regard for the criteria for its use. In 1995, three legislators managed to get five bills passed without a safety clause. Three bills were by Minority Leader Mike Feeley (D), and one each by Sen. Bob Schaffter (R) and Rep. Martha Kreutz (R).
From 1995 through 2005 there have been 700 to 800 bills passed without a safety clause. None have been challenged by the public by way of petition.
A very large majority of the bills passed each year still claim to be needed for "immediate preservation of the public peace, health, and safety." The claim is simply false.
(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House. His web site is www.jerrykopel. com.)

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