Our View: Referendum O brings needed change

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— This year's lengthy ballot is proof in itself why Referendum O is worthy of voter approval.

The ballot features 18 state amendments and referendums - including the four amendments that were pulled by pro-labor groups last week. Of the 18, 14 propose to amend the state constitution. Although we support grass-roots activism and the opportunity for citizens to enact meaningful governmental reform, we don't believe Colorado's existing initiative process works as it should. Referendum O would improve that process.

As it stands, there is no difference in the signature requirement to place a constitutional or statutory initiative on the ballot. The result is the propensity for initiative sponsors to seek constitutional changes instead of statutory ones. The difference is significant: constitutional amendments require another vote of the people to modify or repeal them; statutory initiatives can be changed through a vote of the Legislature.

Our state constitution should be a guiding document that defines the powers and philosophies of our three branches of state government. It should not be a document bogged down by complex provisions that tie the Legislature's hands when conflicts or unforeseen consequences arise. Similarly, it doesn't serve the public's best interest to have an initiative process that encourages special-interest groups to use the constitution as their means for achieving narrow-focused goals.

Referendum O would increase the number of signatures needed to petition a constitutional amendment onto the ballot. It similarly reduces the signature requirement for statutory initiatives, thereby creating incentive for citizens to pursue changes to state laws rather than the constitution.

Referendum O also requires that at least 8 percent of all signatures for a constitutional initiative be collected from each of the state's seven congressional districts, encouraging a show of statewide support before a measure makes it to the ballot.

The referendum also increases the amount of time petitioners of statutory initiatives have to collect signatures, and it requires that constitutional initiatives be submitted for legislative review earlier than currently required. Under Referendum O, the public meetings held to discuss constitutional initiatives would allow public comment and input from legislatures.

Finally, Referendum O makes it more difficult for legislators to alter or repeal voter-approved statutory initiatives by requiring a two-thirds vote by both houses in the first five years after the ballot measure was approved.

The November ballot features three additional referendums that deserve voter approval.

Referendums M and N simply are housekeeping measures for our state constitution. Referendum M would remove an obsolete constitutional provision that allows the state to delay taxing land value increases resulting from the planting of hedges, orchards and forests on private lands. Property taxes will not increase as a result of the referendum, and the obsolete provision doesn't fall under the allowable tax exemptions permitted in other sections of our state constitution.

Referendum N would remove obsolete constitutional provisions pertaining to the manufacture, sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages. The first provision dates to the state's original constitution adopted in 1876, and the second dates to the Prohibition era.

Referendum L lowers the age requirement for serving in the state Legislature from 25 to 21. Critics of the referendum say younger candidates may lack the maturity to be effective leaders in the Legislature. While that may be the case for many aspiring politicians younger than 25, we trust the voters to recognize a qualified candidate when they see one. If you're old enough to vote, serve in the military and drink alcoholic beverages, you ought to have a shot at state government.

On a crowded November ballot, we believe all four referendums should be approved by voters, with particular emphasis placed on Referendum O and its potential to steer citizens toward statutory initiatives rather than constitutional ones.

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