Jerry Kopel


State Sen. Ron Teck (R) is right in offering a concurrent resolution for the November ballot to reduce the growth of our state constitution. Items added over the past forty years have turned the constitution into just another book of statutes.

The fault goes back to the original state constitution of 1876 when Colorado's convention produced a document of major proportions. By 1908 we had a 12 page U.S. Constitution and a 35 page Colorado constitution. Once we added the right of voters to petition amendments into the constitution by way of the ballot, our obese texts began to soar.

In Colorado, it only takes a majority of votes cast on an issue to amend the state constitution. Some other states that also allow the initiative process require a majority of the electors VOTING in the election to amend their constitution. That's quite a difference. Example:

One million votes cast, but only 800,000 vote on the constitutional amendment. In Colorado 400,001 votes amends the constitution. In a state requiring a majority of the total votes cast, it would need 500,001 votes, which is actually slightly more than 62 percent of the 800,000 votes cast.

The U.S. Constitution has been in effect since 1787, or 217 years. Colorado's constitution is 128 years old. The federal constitution has been amended 18 times (the first 10 amendments were one package called the Bill of Rights). The Colorado constitution has been amended 127 times since 1878.

From 1878 through 1910, there were 20 amendments, one of which permitted initiative and referendum. From 1912 through 1962, a fifty year period, there were 36 amendments, and from 1964 through 2002, a 48 year period, there were 71 amendments, of which at least five were introduced to strike and repeal obsolete provisions.

More than 55 percent of the amendments have come about in the most recent 40 years, and nearly 45 percent in the prior 88 years.

Both voters and initiators of amendments showed more restraint and good sense in our early history. Many of the 71 amendments passed since 1964 could easily have been placed in the law as statutes. Putting them in the constitution merely insured less respect for that document.

About half the states use the initiative (petition by the voters) as a way to amend the constitution, statutes, or both. That means 50 percent of the states leave it to the legislature to place measures on the ballot. Of the states that allow the initiative, many have more restrictive requirements than Colorado.

Any final Concurrent Resolution submitted by Sen. Teck will not have an easy time passing in 2004, or even making it to the ballot. There are a lot of yahoos (both extreme conservative and extreme liberal) who think the constitution is the perfect junkyard in which to dump their favorite toy-of-the-month and that the constitution should be as easy to change as diapers.

In 1996, the voters turned down a 60 percent majority requirement on constitutional amendments by a vote of 40 to 60. At the same election opponents of the 60 percent majority proposal initiated a constitutional amendment to make it easier to get a measure on the ballot and harder to amend that language in the future. It lost by 30 to 70 percent.

What many people don't realize is that we have a 66 percent majority clause already in the state constitution. It's in Article 8, Section 3 and it requires 66 percent of the votes cast to change the seat of government from Denver to another location.

(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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