Conflict of interest issues for the Colorado General Assembly, such as the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) and term limits will never be addressed by the legislature. This is why the initiative and referendum (I&R) process is so critically important. It allows the people to take action when the legislature cannot, or will not, act.
Every year, there is another bill designed to hobble the process. This year it is House Bill 1057.
Some lawmakers unfamiliar with the process fail to consult with those who have sought to exercise the process.
Colorado has been embarrassed before the U.S. Supreme Court more than any other state due to these attacks on the initiative process. In Meyer v. Grant and Buckley V. ACLF, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against efforts to weaken I&R in Colorado. More recently, problems created by HB 2009-1326 were largely stricken in lower courts and not appealed by the state.
Some provisions were so obviously egregious that the Colorado Secretary of State chose to not try to implement them. Per these Supreme Court rulings, I&R in Colorado is protected by the First Amendment and as such the legislature may make regulations that facilitate the process or protect against fraud, but may not restrict the process.
This year’s HB 1057, even as amended, is an attack on the fundamental right of initiative. The Blue Book analysis is a legislative function of the General Assembly. The right of initiative is reserved for the people of Colorado in Article V, Section 1 of the Colorado Constitution.
The people create the legislature and delegate to it the power to legislate contingent upon certain “reserved power.”
By mandating that a legislative body must draft a fiscal impact statement that proponents must include on each initiative petition, the bill impermissibly burdens the fundamental right of initiative reserved to the people.
HB 1057 also mandates that a measure be withdrawn and resubmitted if both proponents don’t appear in person at the review and comment hearing. Forcing the withdrawal of a ballot measure during review and comment is burdensome, particularly to proponents who aren’t in the Denver metro area.
Because of the persistent attacks by the legislature, the burden of proof is on them that changes they propose are positive, honest, and constructive. HB 1057 does not fix a current problem with the process. Rather it is a solution in search of a problem.
Dennis Polhill is a senior fellow at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver. Marty Neilson is on the board of directors for the Colorado Union of Taxpayers
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