Jerry Kopel

By Jerry Kopel
It's too late to initiate a ballot issues for the November election. The door closed Friday, April 21. There were 139  initiatives proposed to the state's legislative council staff in hopes of making the ballot. But not to worry. My high level sources say there are only 30 of them in play. The rest are either canceled, duplicates, or later amended versions of prior initiatives.
Chances are you might see 10 to 15 initiatives that will make it, thanks to the 68,000 registered voters who will have to sign petitions in favor of a ballot vote on each of them. The initiative and referendum constitutional provision was passed in 1910 in time for the 1912 election. In addition, in 2006, there may be several referrals from the legislature. 
 At an earlier date (1900) the public gave the legislature the right to seek approval from registered voters on amendments to six "articles" in the constitution.  The constitution is divided into "articles". Our state bill of rights as an example, is the second article.
The initiative and referendum law was swept in on a Populist Party wave. And the "novelty" of having an opportunity by the public to write laws and constitutional amendments produced 32 items of the ballot. Nine were adopted.  In 1914, the number dropped to 16. Four were adopted.
What was once citizen zeal has in large part turned into big money according to national columnist David Broder who has written a book "Democracy Derailed, Initiative Campaigns and the Power of money."
" 24 states, D.C. and hundreds of municipalities, policies are being made not be government but by initiative.
"Government by initiative is not only a radical departure from the constitution's systems of checks and balances, it is also a big business, to which lawyers and campaign consultants, signature gathering firms and other players sell their services to affluent interest groups or millionaire do-gooders with private policy and political agendas.
"Initiative decisions are not made through the time consuming process of passing and signing bills into law -- the method prescribed by the constitution which guaranteed the nation and each of the states 'the Republican form of government.' Rather they are made by the voters themselves or whatever faction of them constitute the majority on election day."
My information sources for Colorado come from the Colorado Yearbook of 1941-42 which provides a breakdown on the first 16 elections (1912-1942), a Legislative Council study recently completed by Stan Elofson and Daniel Smith, Ph.D. and my own review of election results.
Since 1992, when the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) was adopted, there have been 11 initiatives and referendums on the odd-year ballot (1993-2005) relating to money issues. Three passed (all legislative referrals) and eight were defeated. All four issues initiated by the voters were defeated.
According to Elofson, from 1912 through 2005, there have been 348 statewide proposals, 189 initiated by voters (54 percent), 13 also by voters challenging a legislative act (the last time that occurred was in 1932) and 146 referred by the legislature (42 percent). The average number of ballot issues in 47 even-year elections was seven. 
There is nothing constant in a breakdown. From 1912-42  there were 127 ballot issues. From 1990 through 2005 there were 91 issues. The "pass" rate today is also higher; 32 percent in the first 16 elections and 45 percent for 1990 through 2005.  Voters now seem to prefer legislative referrals rather than initiatives. From 1990 through 2005 there were 35 legislative proposals and 21 passed. Of  56 proposed by initiative, only 20 passed.
A lot of what voters will see were proposals vetoed by Gov. Bill Owens, or which failed in the legislative process, or bills by legislators referred to the voters to avoid the possibility of an Owens' veto.
These could include abortion of viable fetuses, PERA (Public Employees Retirement Association) reform, compensation for land use regulations that diminish value, damages for mineral extraction, emergency contraception, state minimum wage, repeal of the new smoking law, marriage by one man and one woman, civil unions, anti-civil unions, restrictions on government services to illegal immigrants, condemnation of private property..
Also a number that never went (as far as I know) through the legislative process: Resident hunting and fishing license fee increases, election of state wildlife management officials, marijuana possession, prohibition on nuclear weapons in Colorado, term limits on court of appeals and supreme court judges, and repeal of there new anti-smoking law.
The 68,000 valid signatures must be turned into the Secretary of State by August 7 who will decide by Sept. 6 whether or not there were sufficient valid signatures.
My favorite for brevity is the marijuana statutory initiative. The change is in caps. "CRS 18-18-406 (1). Any person UNDER THE AGE OF 21 who possesses not more than one ounce of marijuana commits a class 2 petty offense and upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars." 
One may not like the topic, but you can't complain about the length or the understanding.
(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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