Jerry Kopel

Amendment 38 and the Blue Book


Sept. 27, 2006

By Jerry Kopel

One of the worst initiatives on the November ballot is Amendment 38, already criticized at length by both the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post editorials.
Amendment 38 can be divided into three portions:
(1) Making it easier for proponents of petitions to get the petitions on the ballot.
(2) Reducing the amount of unbiased information provided to voters in the Blue Book, except for referendums initiated by the legislature.
(3) Weakening the ability of the legislature to carry out its functions.
This column will discuss (2) and another column will discuss (3). I have divided number (2) actual language into three areas:
"(a) Petition agents may file up to 1,000 words for ballot information booklets and election notices sent to all active registered elector addresses. The length of actual filings shall be the maximum for summaries  of comments filed by opponents.
(b) For petitions, those booklets and notices shall be limited to such written comments filed by 45 days before elections and other information required by Article X, section 20 (3) (b).
(c) The constitution's Article V, section 1 (7.5) (a) (II) and the last sentence of Article X, Section 20 (3) (b) (V) shall not apply to petitions."
Presently eligible voters receive a "Blue Book" regarding any petition initiative or referendum on the ballot. As pointed out by Geoff Wilson, general counsel for the Colorado Municipal League, the cited section of Article V in the constitution presently requires the legislative council to provide "a fair and impartial analysis of each measure, which shall include a summary and the major arguments both for and against the measure."
Amendment 38 would strike such requirements for petitions. Instead the Blue Book would be heavily written in favor of the petition. How does that occur?
Petitioners are entitled to write up to 1,000 words in favor of the proposed change in law. Anything written by opponents cannot be greater in length and has to be presented to the public only in SUMMARY form.
There is no oversight as to what the 1,000 words will state, by either the legislative council staff or by legislators. following public hearings. The 1,000 words could be truth or lies, accurate or misleading, and NO ONE can amend or revise the wording.
Opponents of the measure are restricted to "summaries". The Oxford Illustrated Dictionary defines "summary" as "brief, dispensing with needless detail, abridgment, epitome."
Epitome means "abstract of book, condensed account, thing represented by another in miniature." Abridgment is "to condense, shorten, curtail."
Proponents can wait until the last day (45 days before elections) to file their 1,000 words. Opponents cannot then file a response. Opponents would thus be limited to commenting in advance of the 1,000 words, focusing on the proposed law and not the 1,000 word editorial.
While there is no oversight over the 1,000 word editorial, there is oversight and editing of the opponent's words. But by who? Amendment 38 does not indicate who "summarizes" or who cuts the summary down to matching size if the 1,000 word editorial is instead just a few hundred words.
How would you, as a taxpayer, enjoy paying for a 1,000 word advertisement of a ballot issue? (The 1,000 words equals one and one half page of the Blue Book.) In recent years we had a petition on the ballot which gave named members of a partnership the exclusive right to place video slot machines in Colorado airports. How would you have liked to pay for their free 1,000 word political advertisement?
Amendment 38 was  placed on the ballot under the names of Douglas Campbell and Dennis Polhill. In response to a "rough" editorial in opposition to their proposal by the Rocky Mountain News, that paper gave them lots of space to  respond. As to the Blue Book issue, Campbell and Polhill stated:
"Amendment 38 ensure voters will get complete and balanced information. As part of election guides already being mailed to voter households, 38 will require including the text, ballot title, financial data, and 1,000 word arguments on each side of any future petition."
We know what Amendment 38 will do: Opposition "summaries" vs. free-wheeling editorials. Not complete, not balanced. Lack of comment from what the constitution defines as the "nonpartisan research staff of the general assembly."
If somehow Amendment 38 did pass, I believe it could certainly be challenged as "denial of equal protection by the state" on the issue of lack of oversight for the 1,000 word editorials as opposed to oversight of opponent statements.
(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House and has received seven awards by the Colorado Press Association for his columns.)

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