Jerry Kopel


Independence includes the "right to petition" and that "right" is beginning to bloom again at the Colorado legislature after lying dormant for more than sixty years. This year, fifteen laws passed by the legislature could be overturned by "the people", up from five in 1995 and zero before that for many decades.

The right to petition is Article V, Section l (3) of the state constitution:

"The second power hereby reserved (by the people) is the referendum and it may be ordered, except as to laws necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety, and appropriations...against any act or item, section, or part of any act of the general assembly."

For a long time the legislature had fallen into the posture of using the exception "as to laws necessary" by adding a "safety clause" to all bills. Douglas Bruce's Amendment 12 in 1994 contained one legitimate complaint: The safety clause was being overused and abused by the legislature.

In 1995, five bills became law without use of a safety clause. That triggered a waiting period of ninety days after the legislature adjourned during which time any of the five laws could have been placed on the November ballot if there were:

"....petitions signed by registered electors in 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 at the previous general election..."

Five percent equals 54,241 valid signatures. None of the five laws in 1995 were the subject of petitions and all five became law either August 7,1995 (the ninety-first day) or on any subsequent date listed in the measure.

In 1996 fifteen laws without safety clauses passed the legislature, were not vetoed, and are subject to the right of citizens to put each one on the November ballot by way of 54,241 valid signatures. A few are more controversial than those five laws of 1995.

Interestingly, seven of the fifteen are by Democrats. Twelve of the fifteen originated in the House. Rep. Ken Gordon had three, and Rep. Penn Pfiffner, Andy McElhany, and Sen. Frank Weddig had two each.

Least controversial new laws: HB 1279 by Rep. Gordon and Sen. Wham liberalizes the use of retired and resigned judges in civil actions without expense to the state; HB 1142 by Rep. Gordon and Sen. Coffman increases the number of state employees on the deferred compensation committee from three to four, and increases their terms from three years to four years;

HB 1035 by Rep. Chavez and Sen. Meiklejohn allows members of the national guard to get in-state tuition at the CU Health Sciences Center and not just at the CU School of Nursing located there; HB 1016 by Rep. Dean and Sen. Tebedo deals with retirement by police officers and firefighters resulting from on-duty injury and occupational disease;

HB 1167 by Rep. Pfiffner and Sen. Mutzebaugh "sunsets" reports made to the legislature by the executive branch, and deletes references to a number of reports already printed or scheduled on an annual basis; SB 53 by Sen. Tebedo and Rep. Epps determines who pays what when people on public or medical assistance die.

Slightly more controversial: HB 1267 by Rep. Lamborn and Sen. Norton exempts personal property not otherwise exempt if on a single personal property schedule and the value is $2500 or less. This cuts $1,740,000 from future property collections and the loss will have to be made up from other sources;

HB 1241 by Rep. Leyba and Sen. Wham expands mandatory sickness and accident insurance policies to cover newborn children from the time of birth through individual policies. Newborns are presently covered by group policies. While worthwhile, the cost of HB 1241 will be picked up by other policy holders;

HB 1097 by Rep. Gordon and Sen. Bishop uses a "gross income" definition to get the true picture of the amounts spent for professional lobbyists. The law requires a cross-reference computer information system in the secretary of state's office for easy access to reporters, other busy-bodies, and the rest of us;

HB 1025 by Rep. Paschall and Sen. Mutzebaugh sets up alternative procedures for redress of grievances by national guard members who are dissatisfied with grievance procedures afforded by regulations prescribed by the adjutant general;

SB 122 by Sen. Weddig and Rep. Armstrong makes the Colorado Hairstreak (hypaurotis crysalus) butterfly the state insect of Colorado. (This is slightly controversial because bee industry people were unhappy the bee is not the state insect.)

Four measures can be called controversial because they may incur the wrath of special interests. Two are by Rep. McElhany.

HB 1161, with co-sponsor Sen. Dennis, combats phone overcharges by "nonoptional operator services" through authority granted the Public Utilities Commission. Before the call is connected, the phone service provider has to orally disclose the total charges for the call and that such charges are higher than the normal rate, and allow the caller to disconnect before incurring any charges. If the provider violates the requirement, future access can be blocked.

HB 1107, with co-sponsor Sen. Alexander, eliminates real estate salesperson licenses three years after the last renewal, ending totally in 2001. There are over 22,000 salespersons licensed and more then 13,000 are "active". They will have to become real estate brokers after futher education and testing. Even spread out over four years, this is a tremendous source of additional money for real estate schools and "cram" courses.

According to the Colorado Real Estate Commission, if HB 1107 becomes law, Colorado will be the ONLY state in the nation not to issue a salesperson license.

SB 139 by Sen. Weddig and Rep. Morrison requires discloses on charitable organization containers used for solicitations. The container shall have a label disclosing how much of the donation goes to the charity and how much goes to the "servicers". The law supposedly goes into effect July l, 1996, which is an error, since it can't be enforced until after the 90-day petition period expires.

The most controversial measure may be HB 1262 by Rep. Pfiffner and Sen. Johnson. It requires the state personnel director to prepare a performance-based pay plan for state employees by Oct. 15, 1996 and begin implementing it by July l, 1998. And HB 1262 establishes a commission to consider privatization of state personnel services.

All of you out there who don't like any of the above, here is your opportunity. The ninety-day period for petition gathering ends August 6th. Eleven of the bills will otherwise take effect Aug. 7th and four will take effect Jan. l, 1997.


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

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