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Publish Date: 9/6/2006

Hopefuls debate initiative process
Two secretary of state candidates say it should be harder for voters to amend Constitution


DENVER — It should be harder for Coloradans to use the ballot box to change their state Constitution than it is for them to initiate new state laws, two of the three candidates for secretary of state said Tuesday.

“I’m not against the initiative process, but it shouldn’t be just as easy to amend the Constitution as it is to pass a statute,” said Democrat Ken Gordon.

And Republican Mike Coffman said, “I’m for raising the threshold” for citizen-initiated constitutional revisions.

But Green Party candidate Rick VanWie said he’d oppose stiffer requirements on the numbers of petition signatures required for a constitutional amendment to earn a ballot spot and the margin of votes needed to approve it.

“Not all of us have access to unlimited resources” for petition drives or ballot-issue campaigns, said VanWie, a Denver paralegal, “so I would be against that.”

The three candidates discussed requirements for amending the Constitution during Tuesday’s taping of a program that’s to be broadcast at 9 p.m. Friday on Denver’s KBDI TV Channel 12.

Gordon, a Denver Democrat and the Legislature’s Senate majority leader, noted it takes the same number of signatures to petition a constitutional amendment or a change in state law onto the ballot.

And both require a simple majority to pass on Election Day, he said.

Critics say the ease of initiating constitutional amendments has cluttered the state constitution with rigid prescriptions that can only be changed if approved in another election.

But state laws adopted by the voters can be fine-tuned by the Legislature if they prove unworkable or need to be updated.

Backers of many ballot measures say that’s exactly why they propose constitutional amendments rather than laws: to protect against the Legislature’s gutting or repealing voter-approved measures.

Coffman, a onetime state lawmaker who’s finishing his eighth and final year as Colorado’s treasurer, suggested that if voters pass a new law, it should have to be given “a certain amount of time to work” before the Legislature can try to modify or overturn it.

The three candidates did not single out for discussion any of the seven citizen-initiated measures on this fall’s state ballot.

Six of those questions would amend the state Constitution. Only one, to make it legal for people 21 and older to possess small amounts of marijuana, would amend state law.

The Legislature can refer a proposed law to the ballot with simple-majority votes in the House and the Senate. However, it takes two-thirds majorities for the Legislature to place a proposed constitutional amendment onto the ballot.

Of the seven measures the Legislature placed on this fall’s ballot, three would change the Constitution and four propose statutory changes.

John Fryar can be reached by e-mail at jfryar@times-call.com.

 
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