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The Durango Herald - News - Durango, CO

Roberts in middle of constitution talk
Durangoan wants to make it tougher to amend document

January 19, 2008
| Herald Denver Bureau

DENVER - Rep. Ellen Roberts is likely to be in the middle of plans to reform the Colorado Constitution.

Roberts, R-Durango, is in the running to be one of six lawmakers on a special House-Senate panel to review problems with the state's highest law.

"I am very interested to serve on the committee if asked," Roberts said.

Appointments aren't official yet.

The panel will have two main tasks: making it tougher to amend the constitution and cleaning up conflicting amendments that already have been passed.

House Majority Leader Alice Madden is also involved.

"My main goals are, first and foremost, to preserve the citizens' right to petition," said Madden, D-Boulder.

Colorado citizens use their right to amend the constitution more than the voters in all but a few other states. Critics say the amendments are often poorly drafted or conflict with other laws.

Madden is considering a plan to improve citizen amendments by holding public hearings on them. About 76,000 signatures are needed to put an initiative on the ballot. Madden wants to let campaigners gather about a quarter of the signatures and then hold a public hearing. They could revise their plan based on feedback from the hearing and go back to gathering signatures.

For many lawmakers, the "Ethics in Government" amendment from 2006 is the latest example of a poorly written amendment. It put restrictions on gifts to all state employees, from the governor to the gardener. A court has blocked it until judges can decide if all the restrictions are legal.

If the sponsors had been able to change it after a public hearing, they might have written a better plan that passed the court's test, Madden said.

Madden also wants people gathering signatures to be Colorado residents with no felony records. And they would need to gather signatures in every congressional district if they wanted to amend the constitution, rather than passing a regular law.

Roberts was working on similar plans, but she might hold off until the committee starts to meet.

Voters would have to approve any plan that changed the citizen initiative process. Madden wants to put something on the ballot for this November's election.

If chosen for the panel, Roberts would join Sens. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, and Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, according to Senate staffers.

The panel could be announced as soon as next week.

Roberts has been interested in constitutional problems since she joined the Legislature in 2007. She had planned to introduce an amendment last year, but legislators decided to delay fixes until this year.

Roberts organized a GOP meeting last week to get her party members acquainted with the problem. Members of a Denver University panel came and talked about their recommendations for cleaning up the constitution.

"We had a lot of heavy-hitter businesspeople who were there who really stressed the importance of this issue," Roberts said.

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