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Amending How We Amend

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Colorado Legislature (credit: CBS)

Colorado Legislature (credit: CBS)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

Lawmakers’ opinions vary about how well Coloradans, and specifically writers of ballot measures, amend our state’s constitution.

If you ask most Republicans, they will say that Douglas Bruce’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights was a stroke of genius. They will also usually say that the writers of Amendment 23, which locked in increases for K-12 education funding, gerrymandered our state’s charter for private gain.

When the average Democrat is asked the same question, many will say that Amendment 23 has been critical for the progress of our children. And, they will also likely refer to TABOR, and every other idea Douglas Bruce has proposed, as Bruce’s attempt to send Colorado back to the stone ages.

But while their opinions on specific amendments may be far apart, their opinions of how easy it is for citizen initiatives to change our constitution are very similar.

In a nutshell, members of both parties in the Colorado Legislature are finding acres of common ground on the idea of making amending our constitution much more difficult for the average non-legislator over a new State Senate proposal.

The question is, does this idea represent our government’s attempt to squash citizens from affecting our own governing, or are they saving us from ourselves?

Well, as a debate producer, I love how easy it is for citizens to amend our constitution because it usually means that I have ten, twelve, heck, sometimes 14 issue debates to offer in a single election season.

But, as a citizen, I feel our constitution should be difficult to change for citizens because it is nearly impossible to change as a legislator. Frankly, it’s time the playing field was leveled.

The most common defense of the ease for citizens to amend our constitution is because statutes, which are regular laws, not amendments, can be overturned by the legislature.

That’s a good argument, but the current proposal in the State Senate includes a line that protects the sanctity of citizen statutes.

With that argument addressed, the one remaining sticking point for opponents is their claim that only rich people or rich organizations will be able to put forth amendments. The reason that argument falls flat is that the proposed new rules would mandate any amendments pass by at least 60percent of the vote. It takes much more than money to get 60percent.

It’s not impossible, but simply having more money won’t do the trick.

Many well-funded campaigns have been defeated by far less money, and other ideas have passed with more than 60percent of the vote without overwhelming funds because it was a good idea.

What this proposal comes down to is how much we value our constitution and how much we value the permanency of amendments to it. Citizens should certainly be able to amend the constitution, but it shouldn’t be easier that it is to do in the legislature. This proposal would level that playing field and make a significant move to protect citizen statutes, which is where most of our elections season ideas belong.

In a bit of irony, passing this proposal will take a major effort since it will require a two thirds vote in each chamber, so it’s no slam dunk. But maybe, the legislature will be able to protect the one document that deserves protection, and the one we voters can’t seem to protect very well, the constitution.

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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