Here’s why I’m voting YES on Amendment 71 – Raise the Bar

In Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

Let’s face facts:  In 2016, new amendments to Colorado’s state constitution are more likely to diminish our rights than to protect them.

So the more I hear arguments about Amendment 71, the more I’m convinced that we need to vote yes to “Raise the Bar” to make it harder to amend our state constitution.

Colorado’s bill of rights covers the essentials: inalienable rights to life, property and pursuit of happiness; free exercise of religion; freedom of speech and of the press; right to bear arms; no taking of private property without just compensation; security from unreasonable search and seizure.

However, the Colorado constitution lacks the checks and balances of the U.S. Constitution, which can be amended only by supermajorities — a two-thirds vote of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and ratification by three-fourths of the States.

The U.S. Constitution purposefully requires consensus and deliberation and discourages impulsiveness in order to protect our rights.

Colorado’s constitutional process is a product of the Progressive Era, which viewed the U.S. Constitution as outdated, so Colorado voters in 1910 approved a new process of citizen-initiated amendments: one vote, one time.  This is a tool for impulsiveness.

Petitioners can initiate an amendment by collecting signatures of registered voters (equal to 5% of the votes received by the winning candidate for Secretary of State, currently 98,492 signatures) or a two-thirds majority of the State House and State Senate may propose an amendment.

In either case, a simple majority of voters can alter our basic rights – whether to raise taxes to permanently fund a special-interest program, to raise our utility bills by arbitrarily mandating sources of energy, to order employers whether in Aspen or Eads to pay the same minimum wage, or to raise our utility prices higher still by restricting access to oil and gas deposits.

If 950,001 vote “yes” and 950,000 vote “no,” the state constitution is amended — permanently, in most cases.  That’s ridiculous.

Many of these amendments simply use mob rule to pick the pockets of our fellow Coloradans by dictating terms and costs of private transactions.  That’s akin to legalized theft!

Without Amendment 71, a well-funded special interest can simply pay a professional petition circulator to disperse its minions across the Denver metro area to collect the requisite signatures.

That’s why the Colorado Constitution has been amended more than 150 times and tallies more than 70,000 words.  The U.S. Constitution has just 27 amendments and 7,591 words and has been around 100 years longer.

Amendment 71 would institute two provisions to stop further special-interest assaults:  First, it would require that signatures come from each of our 35 state senate districts.  Next, it would require new constitutional amendments to receive at least 55 percent approval from voters.

So, let’s tackle a few of the arguments against Amendment 71.

TABOR and term limits wouldn’t have passed with Amendment 71.  That’s true, but because they did pass, TABOR and term limits would be harder to repeal because doing so would require signatures from all 35 senate districts.  TABOR passed 26 years ago; term limits 24 years ago.  Can you think of a single measure to restrain government – rather than enlarge it – that has passed since?  (CORRECTION: A term limits amendment passed in 1990 with 70% support.)

If Amendment 71 passed, only wealthy special interests will be able to propose constitutional amendments.  It is a fact of life that people or organizations with more money can do more than those with less money – with or without Amendment 71.  By making it harder to put constitutional amendments on the ballot, wealthy special interests are more likely to take their hare-brained propositions to other states or to put them in statute where they can be amended or repealed if they prove unworkable.

One state senate district could “veto” a proposed amendment.  Don’t fall for this bait-and-switch.  An amendment isn’t required to pass all 35 senate districts but simply to collect signatures from 2% of the voters in each.  Whether in Boulder, El Paso County, Aspen or the Eastern Plains, wrangling 2% of registered voters for a just cause is hardly an insurmountable task.

In just the past 16 years, special interests have proposed 44 amendments to our state constitution.  Passing Amendment 71 will discourage constitutional amendments for frivolous causes and encourage motivated citizens to amend state statutes that, unlike the constitution, can be amended when necessary by our elected legislators.