Fact or fiction? Enlightenment or propaganda? Will you ever again believe what the "Blue Book" explains regarding state ballot issues?
The Blue Book is part of the state constitution, Article V, Section 1 (7.5). The constitution gives the nonpartisan research staff of the general assembly the duty to prepare and make available "a fair and impartial analysis of each measure...." Outside of mentioning that the legislature pays the cost, the legislature plays no more role in written comments for the analysis than does any other citizen. Language in this Section 1 is "self-executing" which means no statute is needed.
Despite being deliberately left out by the state constitution, the legislature continues to claim jurisdiction by a 1994 statute: "Prior to completing of the booklet, a draft shall be reviewed by the legislative council at a public hearing held after notice. At the hearing, any proponent or other interested person shall be allowed to comment on the accuracy or fairness of the analysis of any ballot issue addressed by the booklet."
The legislative council is like a board of directors consisting of nine House and nine Senate members.
In 2005, SB 94 by Sen. Moe Keller (D) and Rep. Paul Weissman (D) began as a way to maintain dominance of the constitution over a statute. What follows is new language:
"The director of research of the legislative council of the general assembly may modify the draft of the booklet in response to comments made at the hearing."
That new language is agreed to in both House and Senate versions for SB 94. Then comes the conflict between the House and Senate.
"The legislative council shall not modify the draft of the booklet."
That new language was in the original SB 94 by Sen. Keller and in the version adopted in the House.
"The legislative council may modify the draft of the booklet upon the two-thirds affirmative vote of the members of the legislative council."
That new language adopted in the Senate replaced the sentence by Sen. Keller that council shall not modify the draft. It was prepared by Sen. Norma Anderson (R) and Sen. Doug Lamborn (R).
So we had two versions of what would happen after a hearing on the ballot issue pros and cons. The original version and the version later passed in the House gave the legislative council no authority to make changes. The version that passed the Senate gave the council the right to make changes by a two-thirds vote.
If the legislature can establish a two-thirds vote (which was a deal Republicans offered House Minority Leader Andrew Romanoff at the end of the 2004 session) then the legislature can establish a majority vote for amendments, or tell the research team to start over.
A lawsuit has been filed by Sen. Ken Gordon (D) before SB 94 was introduced. It will now play a key role as to whether the Blue Book will be debated and/or amended by Legislative Council. A statute cannot lawfully exist in conflict with language in the constitution.
The Denver Post jumped the gun on March 17th, assuming the bill had passed the House and Senate with language stripping legislators of the right to make Blue Book changes.
"We're pleased lawmakers" wrote the Post "have taken corrective measures to assure the book will be an objective tool for voters." Sorry. We wish you were right.
As the Blue Book for 2005 is prepared by nonpartisan legislative staff, you can look forward again to editorials in newspapers of major circulation blasting the legislature's decision to ignore the constitution.
(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)
Copyright 2015 Jerry Kopel & David Kopel