Vail Daily column: The Colorado Constitution
Editor’s note: This is the second part of a series.
In the first part of this series, we observed that the Colorado Constitution, consisting of 29 articles — most with sections and subsections — was, to say the least unwieldy. Thus, the intent of this short series is to give you the flavor of the instrument and to encourage your spelunking more deeply into it should your heart desire, or necessity impel you.
It is worth repeating that while many states scraped and replaced their original constitutions, Colorado has not; the constitution we have today — albeit with revisions and amendments — is the same ol’ gal with whom we started nearly 150 years after our banner first flew up the flagpole of statehood.
In the first part of the series, we blitzed through the preamble and the first nine articles, like tourists at a museum, pausing here and there before the display cases of one interesting factoid or another.
Mushing on, Article 10 concerns everyone’s favorite subject: state revenue and taxation. Consisting of 16 sections (peculiarly numbered 1-3, 3.5, and 4-15), Article 10 establishes the fiscal year; details, in nearly 1,800 words, “Uniform Tax Exemptions;” establishes homestead exemptions for certain qualifying senior citizens and disabled veterans (these exemptions were added in 2000 and 2006, respectively); exempts public property and houses of worship; establishes a minimum tax rate; provides that the general assembly may levy an income tax; and, in 1992 added what has proved to be the enormously controversial Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). Running about 1,800 words, and touching on spending and revenue limits, state mandates, voting issues and other key issues, we will deconstruct TABOR in a later column.
Article 11 deals with public indebtedness. Consisting of 11 sections if one includes Section 2A separately and counts sections 8 and 9 (repealed) and Section 10 (deleted), the article discusses public debt in such diverse arenas as the Colorado Student Loan Program, limitations on state debt, debt incurred for public building, local government debt and the now-deleted section concerning financing for the 1976 Winter Olympics that never were (or never were, at least, in Colorado and, instead, took place in Innsbruck).
Article 12 concerns state officers, disqualifications and removal from office and is broken into 15 sections. To my mind anyway, one of the more interesting sections is 2 which provides, in whole, “No person shall hold any office or employment of trust or profit, under the laws of the state or any ordinance of any municipality therein, without devoting his personal attention to the duties of the same.” It’s not, but maybe should be, titled the “you can’t just collect a paycheck provision.” Among other things, Article 12 prohibits bribery, establishes that an oath of office must be taken, creates a merit system for state personnel and establishes certain veteran preferences in state hiring.
Unlucky 13 deals with impeachment and contains three brief sections. Section 1 establishes that the House shall have the sole power of impeachment. Section 2 provides that “The governor and other state and judicial officers shall be liable to impeachment for high crimes or misdemeanors or malfeasance in office, but judgment in such cases shall only extend to removal from office and disqualification to hold any office of honor, trust or profit in the state … ”
Article 14 of the Colorado Constitution is entitled “Counties” and establishes distinct counties within the state. It also addresses the officers of the counties so established. The first section states succinctly that “The several counties of the territory of Colorado as they now exist are hereby declared to be counties of the state.” Well that was easy. The sixth of the 18 sections establishes election terms for the various county commissioners and 8 discusses county salaries. Sections 13 and 14 relates to cities and towns within the counties and Section 16 deals with county “home rule.”
Article 15 describes the privileges, responsibilities and limitations of corporations. There are 15 sections, some of which have been repealed. A handful of the sections give a glimpse into our history, dealing specifically with the railroads that opened up the West. Two other sections deal with telegraph.
Article 16 also harkens backward, dealing with mining and irrigation. When I moved to Colorado, more than 20 years ago, and after practicing law in California for the previous 10 years, what struck me more than any single thing about Colorado law was the primacy of water and how water had been legally parsed and divided over Colorado’s history. It is not too much to say that — along with the railroads — much of what made Colorado Colorado were mining, water and the laws and rights pertaining to them both.
Consisting of 8 sections, Article 16 deals with such diverse matters as ventilation of mines and employment of children under 12 to work the mines, water diversion and priority, and the means whereby rates for water usage are to be established.
In the next part, we will pick up with Article 17, dealing with the state militia.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.