The Colorado Constitution
August 18, 2015
Editor's note: This is the third part of a series.
In the first two parts of this series, we made our way through the preamble and first 16 of the 29 articles of the Colorado Constitution. In this part, we will knock off numbers 17-29. Rather than an in depth exploration, its intent is to give a flavor of what is a complex and often tortious instrument that has stirred — and continues to stir — frequently deserved discomfiture and debate.
• Article 17 of the Colorado Constitution deals with the state militia. In five brief sections, it dictates who is eligible for service; provides that the organization, equipment and discipline of the militia shall conform, as nearly as practicable, to the regulations for the government of the armies of the United States; details how officers are to be chosen; provides that the general assembly shall provide for the safekeeping of the public arms, military records, relics and banners of the state; and provides for conscientious objectors … in peacetime.
• The 18th Article is a catch-all containing various, seemingly disjointed provisions. Comprised of 16 sections and two subsections, it is a hot mess within what is often the hot mess of our unruly constitution. As brief as Article 17 is, Article 18 rambles on … and on. Covering topics ranging from homestead exemptions; to lotteries; to the definition of a felony; to the preservation of forests; to publication of new laws; to where, how and when gambling shall be permitted in this state; to term limits on U.S. senators and representatives; to term limits on elected state officials; to prohibited methods of taking wildlife; to the use of medical marijuana; to the minimum wage; to the right to use marijuana recreationally. Article 18 is where things are stuck that seem to not go anywhere else. What, may I ask you, does the homestead exemption have to do with term limits or medical marijuana? Anyway, 'tis what it is.
An unwieldy beast, with a little patience, the Colorado Constitution mostly gets the job done. But simple and straightforward, it often is not.
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• Article 19 is titled "Amendments." Its sections, together, define two ways in which the Colorado Constitution can be amended. (Section 1 of Article 5 defines a third way of amending the state's constitution through the initiated constitutional amendment process.). The first section deals with constitutional conventions. The second deals with how amendments are adopted.
• Article 20 concerns itself with home rule cities and towns. Consisting of 13 sections, it deals with incorporation of the city of Denver, officers of the city and county of Denver, home rule rules for Colorado cities and towns, terms of creation of the city and county of Broomfield and more. Unless you are a policy wonk or have a particular interest, Article 20 does not make the most fascinating reading.
• Article 21, however, steps it up with a little intrigue. It involves recall from office of state officers, details the recall petition process, deals with resignation from office and how vacancies are filled, the limitations on recall municipal authorities may adopt.
• The 22nd article of the Colorado Constitution is pretty straightforward. It consists of a single section, and it repealed obsolete constitutional provisions on alcohol.
• In at 23, we find, well… nothing. The article has been repealed.
• Article 24 concerns old age pensions and is made up of 9 sections.
• Article 25 has no sections at all and deals with public utilities.
• Article 26, consisting of five sections, concerns — of all things — nuclear detonations which are, not surprisingly, generally prohibited.
• Number 27 concerns GoCo, the Great Outdoors Colorado program. It has 10 sections and is funded by Lotto and every other state-supervised lottery game operated under the authority of Article 18, Section 2 of the Colorado Constitution.
• Article 28 regulates campaign and political financing, including certain spending limits, disclosures which shall be made, enforcement duties of the Colorado Secretary of State, campaign filing issues.
• Last, but certainly not least is Article 29, which concerns ethics in government. The sections include, among other things, gift bans, restrictions on representation after leaving government and the establishment of an independent ethics commission.
The average state constitution consists of 26,000 words. Alabama's is the longest, stretching to an astounding 172,000 words. Just for scale, my most recent novel — just completed — consists of 110,000 words. The United States Constitution runs about 8,700 words. Colorado's is a whopping 72,981.
Alabama's constitution has had 807 amendments. The state average is 146. Colorado's is just a skosh higher at 152.
An unwieldy beast, with a little patience, the Colorado Constitution mostly gets the job done. But simple and straightforward, it often is not. Probably the ripest to revisit soon is TABOR (Article 10), the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which the winds of change dictate will soon be due for rethinking and a likely bit of tinkering.
The November 2016 elections are just around the corner. Fortune will tell what other changes they may bring.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his email addresses, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.