The passage of Amendment 71, known as the Raising the Bar initiative, protects Colorado residents from living under the uncertainty of a state constitution that can be amended on a whim. Thanks to the many Coloradans who campaigned for Amendment 71 and showed up to support the initiative on Election Day, the Constitution can now only change with majority of support from Coloradans.
Under the amendment’s newly enacted rules, at least 2 percent of voters in Colorado’s 35 Congressional Districts must sign a petition for a ballot measure to become a proposed amendment that appears on a statewide ballot. The number of signatures is set at 5 percent of the number of votes cast for the office of Secretary of State of Colorado in the previous general election. Currently, the number of signatures to meet that minimum is 98,492. Amendment 71 does not change that number, but it does require that at least 2 percent of the population of each district have signed a petition. This way, voters across Colorado must be in favor, not just those in urban areas – and all Coloradans now have a say in how their Constitution is amended.
After that threshold is met, 55 percent of votes cast in a referendum must then favor the amendment for it to become law. Prior to Amendment 71’s enactment, a petition with the minimum number of signatures was required to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. After appearing on the ballot, only a simple majority of votes was required to alter the constitution. This means that in the past, amendments, which only repeal already existing parts of the constitution, only needed a majority of the vote to pass, rather than 55 percent.
By ensuring that changes to the constitution occur only with widespread support, Colorado will no longer have to act as a guinea pig for untested policies other states are unwilling to try on their own. It also ensures that the Colorado Constitution, already the longest of any state in the country, remains stable and free of conflicting directives. By raising the bar to amend the constitution, Colorado was protected from mob rule at the ballot box.
Why Amendment 71 Is Necessary
To understand the importance of defending the integrity of the state constitution, consider two dangerous ballot measures that cropped up in the last two years.
In 2015 and 2016, anti-fracking activists launched initiatives to pass two proposed amendments that would have crippled the oil and gas industry, damaged the state’s economy, cost jobs, and infringed on the rights of property owners. The incredibly restrictive zoning law proposed under Measure 78 would have made 90 percent of land in the state off-limits to new oil and gas operations. Measure 75 would have given towns the power to prevent landowners from selling their mineral rights (that is, their property), with no mechanism for appealing arbitrary decisions. This was perhaps good news for some lawyers but bad news for the many people who work in the oil and gas industry. In other words, the amendments took direct aim at an industry that contributed $1.2 billion of direct statewide tax revenue in 2014 alone. The industry was also responsible for creating 38,650 full time jobs in Colorado that year.
Fortunately, the activists pushing Amendments 75 and 78 did not collect the required number of petition signatures to place the both amendments on the 2016 ballot. In fact, while both petitions had more than 100,000 signatures, many were signers found by the office of the Colorado Secretary of State to be fraudulent or to have inaccurate information that made it impossible to confirm their validity.
By ensuring the stability and integrity of the state’s constitution, Amendment 71 makes Colorado a more attractive place for investment and business development. It also ensures that the experts at the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission, a group of experienced regulators who have overseen energy development all over the state, retain final authority in enforcing state laws and regulations for the industry.
Now, the Centennial state’s oil and gas industry can continue to operate in what is already one of the most heavily regulated states in the country. Coloradans no longer need to fear that special interest groups with disastrous plans for the state economy will be able to take advantage of the Constitution.