Jerry Kopel

Referendum O

July 27, 2008

By Jerry Kopel

Published as Tricky Wording State Referendum. Vail Daily. Aug. 2, 2008.

What will happen to your vote and the credibility of your signature in future elections if Referendum O becomes part of the state constitution?

A brief analysis by the Legislative Council staff with additional information in parenthesis by this columnist appears below as if Referendum O were already enacted.

...Deceases the number of signatures required to place a statutory initiative on the ballot (from 76,047 to 62,331).

...Increases the number of signatures required to place a constitutional initiative on the ballot (from 76,047 to 93,497).

...Requires that eight percent of signatures for constitutional initiatives be gathered from each congressional district (Eight percent would be 7,480 in each of the seven districts for a total of 52,360, plus 41,137 more signatures from anywhere in Colorado.)

...Requires that constitutional initiatives be submitted earlier in the year (March 8 instead of the second half of April).

...Extends the time period for collecting signatures for statutory initiatives (from six months to nine months).

...Increases the number of votes required for the legislature to amend a statutory initiative for five years after its passage (cannot amend, repeal, or supersede without a two-thirds vote by the House and Senate.)

...Allows the public and the legislature to comment on proposed initiatives.

Referendum O began life as Senate Concurrent Resolution 003 by Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, and Rep. Al White, R-Hayden. There are some possible, obviously unintentional, problems with the language.

Consider the word "supersede" which means "obliterate, set aside, annul, replace, make void, inefficacious or useless, repeal, to put a person or thing in the place of, to supplant."

Suppose the initiated statute refers to legal holidays. That statute is CRS 24-11-101. Suppose a bill is passed simply by a majority of the House and Senate that redefines "legal holiday" to include "Ralph Carr Day", which was not a legal holiday when the statutory initiative Referendum O passed. Does the word "supersede" come into play?

The exact wording is "the General Assembly shall not amend, repeal, or supersede any law enacted by an initiative for a period of five years after the law becomes effective unless approved by a vote of two-thirds of all members elected to each house.

A court may have to decide whether that means the holiday applies in all other situations, but not when it would otherwise refer to the initiated statute. Or does it mean the Ralph Carr holiday is void if that bill is not enacted by a two-thirds vote?

Under Referendum O, citizens continue to have the privilege of an initiative to amend, repeal, or supersede a prior statute enacted by initiative. Will the original initiative have a new "no change" five years immunity as to language not amended by the newer initiative?

One argument against Referendum O refers to collecting eight percent of the signatures from each congressional district and that this would would be impossible if there were 13 congressional seats (13 times 8 equals 104 percent). Of course our population would have to more than double and there would be ample time for a constitutional change to be placed on the ballot to reduce the "eight percent" to a lesser number.

My opinion? It's worth trying. The present system is a constitutional disgrace. If Referendum O doesn't work, the two-thirds needed to place a constitutional measure on the ballot provides the legislature with the ability to render Referendum O harmless.
Next week, Referendums M and N.

(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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