Jerry Kopel

Douglas Bruce should be proud. The Colorado legislature is on its way to abandoning the "safety clause" at the end of each bill that becomes law and allowing the right to a referendum.

The safety clause, for the uninitiated, turns a bill into a law either on the date signed (or unsigned) by the governor or on a date expressed in the bill. It reads "The general assembly hereby finds, determines, and declares that this act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, and safety."

If there is no "safety clause" a bill is subject to a referendum petition by the voters. They have to file petitions containing signatures equal to five percent of the votes for secretary of state in the last general election. That would presently equal 54,242 valid signatures of registered electors.

Petitioners will have until midnight, Tuesday, August 5th to turn in the signatures on a particular bill to the secretary of state. If not, the bill becomes law on August 6th.

As of May 1st, when I did this random sample, Gov. Roy Romer had signed (excluding appropriation measures) 158 bills, of which 25 were subject to referendum. That may not seem like many unless you recognize that prior to 1995, and for a number of years, no new Colorado law was subject to referendum.

Gov. Romer will likely consider another hundred-plus measures for passage or veto and he has until Friday, June 6th to determine which ones to veto. That does cut down the amount of time for gathering 54,242 valid signatures to 60 instead of 90 days.

Why the increase in laws subject to referendum? The Legislative Drafting Office this year stopped putting a safety clause in proposed measures unless the sponsor specifically asked for it. That didn't stop some legislators from adding a safety clause on to bills (usually not their own) as measures passed through the House and Senate.

In several constitutional proposals since 1994, Mr. Bruce and his loyal followers made the "safety clause" an issue, often hiding more devious proposals in the same measure behind a valid concern on the right to a referendum. This year should probably see at least 40 laws subject to referendum, but the major question will still be: Who is going to make the effort to have a vote on any of these measures?

Of the seven Senate measures reviewed for this column, five were by Republicans, and two by Democrats. Several could be controversial. SB 10 by Sen. Dottie Wham (R) increases compensation of elected county officers. SB 150 by Sen. Mike Coffman (R) allows the state treasurer to place state funds in investments not considered appropriate before passage of SB 150.

Eighteen House referendum laws were offered by 10 Republicans and eight Democrats. If you don't want alcohol to be consumed by passengers aboard luxury limousines or on a charter or scenic bus, then you want to put HB 1078 by Rep. Andy McElhany (R) on the ballot. If you think doctors shouldn't practice "alternative medicine" then go after HB 1183 by Rep. Ron Tupa (D).

If you believe a first-time driving offender who had "excessive alcohol content" should have to undergo skills testing before getting a new license, you will want to oppose HB 1227 by Rep. Ron May (R).

HB 1231 by Rep. Jeannie Reeser (D) denies personal recognizance bonds for anyone who failed to appear when free on bond in a felony or Class 1 misdemeanor charge in the preceding five years. Rep. Tupa's HB 1268 makes unauthorized listening in on cordless phone conversations a Class 1 misdemeanor.

You should be able to get petition forms from the secretary of state. But be ready to spend 50-75 thousand dollars to gather the needed signatures to put any of these matters on the November 1997 ballot. That is why the "right to petition" is only going to be exercised on very rare occasions.

* * *

Just because your bill was killed doesn't mean it can't rise again and again in the same legislative session. SB 130 by Sen. Elsie Lacy (R) dealt with "Narrow Therapeutic Drugs" also known as NTI. Her first bill died in Senate Local Government Committee Feb. 14th. Then it returned as an amendment to HB 1122 by Rep. Marcy Morrison (R) which bill dealt with Managed Care Plan Operations.

The amendment was tacked on by Sen. Ed Perlmutter (D) during second reading in the Senate on HB 1122 and then removed on third reading.

A third try did seem rather desperate. Sen. Lacy introduced SB 238 on Narrow Therapeutic Index Drugs on April 30th and then must have determined she didn't have the votes in Senate Health Committee to pass what appears to be a controversial measure so late in the session.

According to proponents of the amendment "Narrow therapeutic index drugs are a critical class of drugs for which even slight decreases in blood levels may result in ineffective therapy, while slight increases in blood levels may result in toxic effects. These drugs require judicious monitoring and close physician supervision to enhance their safe use."

Colorado has a successful and cost-saving generic substitution law on brand name prescriptions. Sen. Lacy's failed bills would have required the physician to literally write a new prescription in order to change the original one.

But if a physician feels no generic or other brand name drug should be substituted because of potential danger to a patient, present law allows a physician to so indicate on the prescription pad under CRS 12-22-124 (2) even without Sen. Lacy's bill. So what's the point?


Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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