July 27, 2008
By Jerry Kopel
Published as Tricky Wording State Referendum.
Vail Daily. Aug. 2, 2008.
What will happen to your vote and the credibility of your signature in
future elections if Referendum O becomes part of the state constitution?
A brief analysis by the Legislative Council staff with additional
information in parenthesis by this columnist appears below as if
Referendum O were already enacted.
...Deceases the number of signatures required to place a statutory
initiative on the ballot (from 76,047 to 62,331).
...Increases the number of signatures required to place a constitutional
initiative on the ballot (from 76,047 to 93,497).
...Requires that eight percent of signatures for constitutional
initiatives be gathered from each congressional district (Eight percent
would be 7,480 in each of the seven districts for a total of 52,360,
plus 41,137 more signatures from anywhere in Colorado.)
...Requires that constitutional initiatives be submitted earlier in the
year (March 8 instead of the second half of April).
...Extends the time period for collecting signatures for statutory
initiatives (from six months to nine months).
...Increases the number of votes required for the legislature to amend a
statutory initiative for five years after its passage (cannot amend,
repeal, or supersede without a two-thirds vote by the House and Senate.)
...Allows the public and the legislature to comment on proposed
Referendum O began life as Senate Concurrent Resolution 003 by Sen. Abel
Tapia, D-Pueblo, and Rep. Al White, R-Hayden. There are some possible,
obviously unintentional, problems with the language.
Consider the word "supersede" which means "obliterate, set aside, annul,
replace, make void, inefficacious or useless, repeal, to put a person or
thing in the place of, to supplant."
Suppose the initiated statute refers to legal holidays. That statute is
CRS 24-11-101. Suppose a bill is passed simply by a majority of the
House and Senate that redefines "legal holiday" to include "Ralph Carr
Day", which was not a legal holiday when the statutory initiative
Referendum O passed. Does the word "supersede" come into play?
The exact wording is "the General Assembly shall not amend, repeal, or
supersede any law enacted by an initiative for a period of five years
after the law becomes effective unless approved by a vote of two-thirds
of all members elected to each house.
A court may have to decide whether that means the holiday applies in all
other situations, but not when it would otherwise refer to the initiated
statute. Or does it mean the Ralph Carr holiday is void if that bill is
not enacted by a two-thirds vote?
Under Referendum O, citizens continue to have the privilege of an
initiative to amend, repeal, or supersede a prior statute enacted by
initiative. Will the original initiative have a new "no change" five
years immunity as to language not amended by the newer initiative?
One argument against Referendum O refers to collecting eight percent of
the signatures from each congressional district and that this would
would be impossible if there were 13 congressional seats (13 times 8
equals 104 percent). Of course our population would have to more than
double and there would be ample time for a constitutional change to be
placed on the ballot to reduce the "eight percent" to a lesser number.
My opinion? It's worth trying. The present system is a constitutional
disgrace. If Referendum O doesn't work, the two-thirds needed to place a
constitutional measure on the ballot provides the legislature with the
ability to render Referendum O harmless.
Next week, Referendums M and N.
(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)