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Roberts works on reforming state constitution
Douglas Bruce vows to fight effort on filing initiatives

February 13, 2008
| Herald Denver Bureau

DENVER - Rep. Ellen Roberts joined five other lawmakers Tuesday to start drafting a plan on constitutional reform.

Roberts, R-Durango, has been interested in fixing Colorado's Constitution since she was elected in 2006. Critics of the current system say it is too easy to amend the Constitution, and the document is packed with financial requirements that create budget troubles.

Roberts and her colleagues are on a tight deadline. Legislative leaders want a report by March 7.

And they'll have to do their work under the scrutiny of Rep. Douglas Bruce, R-Colorado Springs, an outspoken defender of citizen initiatives who was appointed to the Legislature this winter. Bruce was not appointed to the panel but attended the first meeting, where he said he'd oppose any plan that made it harder to amend the Constitution.

The panel's goal is to create a plan the Legislature can vote on this spring, said Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, the group's chairman. Voters would have the final say in November.

"It is not my objective to wind up with a report that we can file on a bookshelf. That has already been done," Tapia said.

Senate President Peter Groff announced the creation of the group Jan. 9, the first day of the Legislature. But it has taken a month to coordinate with the House of Representatives and getting the panel going. It is evenly split between senators and representatives, Democrats and Republicans.

Tapia wants the group to meet three times a week in order to meet their fast deadline.

Co-chairman Rep. Al White, R-Hayden, was ready to go.

"I've been working on constitutional reform for years, and I haven't seen any lightning speed yet, so I am encouraged by the senator's words," White said.

Constitutional critics say there are two broad problems: the content of the current document and the ease of adding new amendments.

Republicans on the committee said Tuesday they want to limit their work to the second problem.

"Going into the content problem is beyond what we can reasonably do," Roberts said.

No one in the Legislature is talking about scrapping the right of citizens to pass ballot initiatives. But Thursday, Tapia has invited a group from the University of Denver to talk about its idea for making initiatives better.

The DU group wants to send ballot questions to the Legislature for public hearings. The proponents could modify their initiatives after the hearings or ignore the Legislature's advice.

Whatever plan is chosen, Roberts said, the Legislature won't succeed unless it builds broad support across the state. Ordinary citizens will have to push the effort because people are suspicious of elected officials, she said.

"Can it be done? Yes," Roberts said. "Can it be done well? That remains to be seen."

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