Jerry Kopel

It's hard to believe a few years ago there was debate in the press and the legislature about whether the greenback trout's admission as the state fish or whether the Square Dance's admission as the state dance (including the French Ballroom Dance and the Virginia Reel) should have included a "safety clause" in the bills. Maybe legislators 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.

The safety clause is the language the legislature used to put at the end of non-appropriation bills to avoid any waiting period and possible overturn by an irate public. 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."

Of course such a fear of public reprisal was legislative paranoia. Over the past five years, 1995 through 1999, there have been 237 bills enacted into law without a safety clause, and not ONE has been challenged by the public. And for good reason.

The signatures necessary to put a bill without a safety clause before the voters is set out in Article 5, Section 1 (3) of the state constitution. It requires an amount "equal to at least five percent of the total number of votes cast for all candidates for the office of secretary of state."

The vote for secretary of state in November, 1998 totaled 1,251,899 which means 62,595 valid signatures would be required and gathered in a lot less time than the time allowed for the same number of signatures needed to put a constitutional or statutory initiative on the ballot. Gathering that many valid signatures requires a commitment of major money, or a large number of volunteers.

In 1997, the legislative drafting office stopped putting a safety clause in proposed measures unless the sponsor specifically asked for it. In most cases, they substitute the following language:

"This act shall take effect at 12.01 a.m. on the day following the expiration of the ninety-day period after final adjournment of the general assembly (May 5 in 1999) that is allowed for submitting a referendum petition pursuant to article 5, section 1 (3) of the state constitution; except that, if a referendum petition is filed against this act or an item, section, or part of this act within such period, then the act, item, section, part, if approved by the people, shall take effect on the date of the official declaration of the vote thereon by proclamation of the governor."

The language ISN'T necessary. Without the safety clause, the words set out in the constitution automatically apply.

In 1910, the voters established the initiative and referendum and safety clause language in the state constitution. Actually, a sort of "safety clause" existed prior to 1910. For the previous 34 years, 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. The term wasn't defined in the constitutional language.

Prior to 1995, the safety clause had been used on every bill that became law for 61 years, except appropriation bills and except where the legislature specifically directed a bill to be placed on the ballot. Leaving the safety clause out of bills which become law has grown steadily.

In 1995 there were five bills; in 1996, 15 bills; in 1997, 45 bills (15 percent of the total); in 1998, 78 bills (25 percent of the total); and in 1999, 94 bills (36 percent of the total). My guess is that by 2005, the safety clause will be an unusual attachment to a bill, except for the very few that have to take effect by July 1st of the year in which it is passed.

* * *

Perhaps it was the angle from which Lew Sherman of the Denver Post shot the July 16th press conference held in Lt. Gov. Joe Rogers' office (regarding a scheduling conflict between Rogers and Gov. Bill Owens) but that office certainly looked very large to me. And my first thought was "Mark Hogan and the State Senate."

In 1966, Democrat Mark Hogan was elected lieutenant governor, defeating Joe Shoemaker by about 17,000 votes. At the time, the constitution provided for separate elections for that office and the office of governor. Republican John Love was elected to his second term as governor over Bob Knous.

The Democrats lost 15 seats in the Colorado House and every executive office election except lieutenant governor. Attorney General Duke Dunbar defeated Bill Chisholm, Secretary of State Byron Anderson defeated Arch Decker (he was a Democrat at the time), and Virginia Blue defeated Homer Bedford for state treasurer. In the other major race, Gordon Allott won a third term in the U.S. Senate defeating Roy Romer by 100,000 votes.

The 1966 election made Hogan the focus of the Democratic party and the holder of that office had much more power than it does now.

Hogan was by law, president of the state senate and in charge of assigning bills to committees, even though the Senate had 20 Republicans and 15 Democrats. In the event of a tie in a recorded senate vote, Hogan could break the tie.

The Republicans were not happy to have Hogan around. They began the 1967 term by assigning Evelyn Davidson, Hogan's administrative assistant, a desk in the same office as Republicans, which meant she could not expect privacy as she discussed items either in person or on the phone. Mrs. Davidson had been chief clerk of the House in 1965 when the House was under Democratic control.

Hogan went public. He had Evelyn's desk moved into the corridor outside the office, where the general public, the lobbyists and the legislators would have to pass by. If there wasn't going to be privacy, then the world would know about it. The picture of Mrs. Davidson sitting out in the corridor made good copy for the newspapers, and enough pressure on the Senate Republicans to eventually provide her and Hogan with privacy.

Sometimes, lieutenant governors have to make a splash to get their message across.

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

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