Jerry Kopel

KOPEL: TIMES MAY BE BAD, BUT CITIZENS DO RESPOND

Keeping a lid on a constitutional convention

The conflicts over money issues in the Colorado Constitution need to be resolved. But it’s easy to understand why members of the Legislature are concerned about starting the process when one looks at the requirements under Article 19 on convening a constitutional convention.

Hundreds of people probably will seek election as delegates. A March 2009 Denver Post editorial opposing a constitutional convention called it “too far out of the box.”

It’s actually Section (1) of Article 19 that is “too far out of the box.” That section would create a system calling for 70 probably bitter elections as candidates compete in a system providing pay for delegates, leading to a long wait before anything could be accomplished.

But because our Constitution is so easy to amend, those concerns, which are really “fears,” are easily limited.

Hopefully, Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, and Rep. Don Marostica, R-Loveland, might wish to continue an approach that could be completed in less than 18 months by writing a proposed constitutional amendment that would go to a vote of the electorate in November 2009.

A Section (4) could be added to Article 19 of the Constitution calling for a “mini constitutional convention.” Its scope would be limited to the specific articles dealing with revenue and spending that have created problems.

The new Section (4) could state it would automatically repeal in less than two years and point out it is “mini” not “major.” This is a valid constitutional amendment, even though it is in conflict with the language in Section (1) of Article 19.

Forget about electing 70 members. It is important that both major parties feel secure in the membership of the convention. I would suggest 35 members, five from each congressional district.

Membership must be divided between the major parties in order to gain two-thirds support to place the issue on the ballot. Delegate “makeup” must provide security to the party presently “out of power.” I would give that party a one-vote majority.

The Senate president and the Senate minority leader each would select two of the five members in each congressional district for the mini convention delegation.

The chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court would name the remaining seven members, one from each congressional district, based upon the statewide 2008 vote for secretary of state. Four members will come from the party whose candidate won that election. Three members would come from the political party that came in second in the election.

The process for setting up the convention and the duties to be carried out can be contained in this measure, which has to be placed on the ballot in 2009 by a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate.

The subject matter to be considered will be spelled out. That avoids the problems that could arise in a normal constitutional convention, when everything (under the Colorado version) can be considered.

The proposed amendment for the convention could specify school budget inflation and TABOR as two of the main issues, along with other revenue budget issues.

To avoid problems regarding convention budget, language used in the 2009 ballot should be as specific as possible.

The Legislature should have as small a role as possible. Otherwise, the failure to pass a budget or other issues not spelled out could kill the movement forwarded by the delegates.

The new Section (4) as part of the Constitution should disappear immediately at the end of 2010.

Unlike legislators, convention delegates would need only a majority to place the issues on the ballot, which they can do specifically in conflict with the single-subject approach as long as Section (4) remains in operation.

The Legislature will not call the convention; the voters will in November 2009 based on the Legislature putting this on the ballot. The amendment will be lengthy, but it can also be easy to understand, if it’s read like a statute that will disappear after 2010. The key language will concern the changes made in 2010 to the language in the Constitution, if the convention’s work is acceptable.

The convention budget necessary for 2009 and 2010 shall not include pay for convention delegates, but include reasonable expenses instead. Staff shall be paid based on Legislative Council determining the staff needed. Rules governing the process can be based on Senate rules or Roberts’ Rules of Order.

The qualification of members shall be the same as for members of the Senate, and vacancies occurring shall be filled by the staffing officer, (Senate president, Senate minority leader or Supreme Court chief justice) whoever at that point holds the position, as opposed to filling the original position.

All delegates shall be chosen in January 2010. Such convention shall begin meeting within one month after final appointments and prepare such amendments as may be deemed necessary to be voted upon at the November, 2010 general election.

Language in this column constitutes an opening, linking what would normally be statutory matters written by the Legislature and placed as part of Section (4) for this one time period.

Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.