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Publish Date: 9/6/2005

Lawmakers to finalize voters’ guide
Language for ‘blue books’ supposed to be void of bias

DENVER — A legislative leader who says it’s unconstitutional for lawmakers to second-guess their staff’s ballot-analysis language is now pushing for changes in the staff’s latest draft of a voters’ guide for the Nov. 1 election.

“It’s kind of ironic,” acknowledged Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, D-Denver.

Gordon is one of 18 members of the Legislative Council, a panel that meets today to craft a final version of the official state voters’ guide explanations of Referendums C and D.

Earlier this year, the Legislature revised procedures for adopting the final language for those “blue books,” which get their name from the color of their covers.

In theory, at least, that new law — sponsored in the House by Louisville Democratic Rep. Paul Weissmann — is supposed to make it harder for legislators to inject their own biases into the booklets in attempts to influence election outcomes.

Each year, the Legislature’s nonpartisan staff prepares what are supposed to be impartial analyses of what’s being proposed by the initiatives and referendums on that year’s ballot, including sample arguments for and against each measure.

The staff solicits suggestions from both supporters and opponents of the measures. The voters’ guides go through several drafts, with the staff adopting or adapting some of the suggestions it has received

The staff’s work is then handed over to the Legislative Council, a joint Senate and House committee that conducts a public hearing before making its own changes to the blue books before they’re mailed to more than 1.5 million Colorado households.

In recent years, Gordon and several other lawmakers have complained that some Legislative Council members improperly slanted the voters’ guides to reflect their prejudices for or against a ballot measure.

Last year, Gordon was so upset at Legislative Council revisions for several 2004 ballot measures that he tried unsuccessfully to get a Denver District Court judge to halt distribution of the voters’ guides.

Under the new law the Legislature adopted earlier this year, it now takes a two-thirds vote — at least 12 of the 18 Legislative Council members — for that panel to modify the language recommended by its staff. The committee previously could make such changes through simple-majority votes.

Because of the higher threshold, “there may be some changes I’d like that won’t happen,” Gordon said in a Friday interview.

In the lawsuit Gordon filed last year that now awaits a Colorado Court of Appeals hearing in October, he argued the state Constitution precludes the Legislative Council from substantially editing its staff’s blue book decisions.

“I felt and still do that this was a job that the Constitution gave to the Legislative Council staff,” Gordon said Friday.

At today’s meeting, however, “I’m going to be voting in favor of changes even though I generally think we shouldn’t make changes.”

Gordon said he’d be using the process set by the current blue book preparation law until it’s thrown out by the courts or amended by the Legislature.

As it happens, Gordon — a leading backer of both referendums — might have an edge when it comes to getting his Legislative Council colleagues to adopt the voters’ guide changes he’s seeking.

Fourteen of the Legislative Council’s 18 members — including all 10 of the committee’s Democrats and four of its eight Republicans — are on record as supporting Referendums C and D.

All 14 were in the legislative majorities voting to advance those measures to the Nov. 1 ballot, and many of them — like Gordon — are campaigning for their passage.

At least one of the four Legislative Council Republicans who oppose Referendums C and D, House Minority Leader Joe Stengel of Littleton, has also suggested changes to the staff’s final blue book drafts.

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

The Legislative Council today is to decide on final versions of a ballot-information booklet about two proposals on the Nov. 1 state ballot:

• Referendum C, which asks voters to let the state keep and spend a projected $3.7 billion over the coming five years — revenue that otherwise would have to be refunded to Coloradans because of limits set by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

• Referendum D, which asks voters to let the state issue up to nearly $2.1 billion in bonds for transportation improvements and various other projects and programs.

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