Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

University of Denver panel recommends constitutional review

A panel of scholars, business professionals and experts assembled by the University of Denver is calling for key modifications to the state’s constitution and constitutional amendment process in a bid to improve a document they see as laden with conflicting requirements and muddled intent.

The 2007 Colorado Constitution Panel, convened by the University’s Strategic Issues Program (SIP), presented its findings at a Jan. 3 news conference at the state Capitol building, noting that the very foundation of Colorado’s government is burdened with the unintended consequences of a century of amendments.

“Unless changes are made, our constitution will continue to impede the ability of policymakers to respond to the needs of Colorado,” said Jim Griesemer, dean emeritus of the Daniels College of Business and the director of DU’s Strategic Issues Program. “I can’t think of anything that is more important.”

DU Chancellor Robert Coombe noted that Colorado, one of the few states in the country to maintain its original constitution, now has a document so loaded with amendments and additions that it is nine times longer than the U.S. Constitution. Some amendments, such as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, seek to limit spending while others, such as Amendment 23, call for increased spending on schools.

The 13-member, nonpartisan panel — appointed by Coombe — presented its findings after months of review and input from national experts.

Recommendations include preserving the right of citizen initiatives by strengthening the process by which citizens can develop statutes, but reforming the constitutional amendment process. A key element, Griesemer said, is adding time for the legislature to hold hearings and debate citizen proposals, giving them a chance to make informed recommendations to the public before placing proposed amendments on the ballot.

Constitutional amendments, he said, shouldn’t be reduced to sound bites on television commercials in a rush leading up to an election.

“What the panel is trying to do is make the process much more thoughtful,” he said.

In addition, the panel recommends establishment of a regular constitutional review process with a constitutional review commission organized every 10 years.

Griesemer said the panel’s work is done and is being presented to lawmakers to study as they prepare for this year’s legislative session. The next step, he said, is for the state’s leaders to consider the recommendations. But even making the proposed adjustments aimed at cleaning up the cluttered constitution will require a constitutional amendment approved by voters. Griesemer said he hopes legislators review the panel’s findings and discuss the issues.

“It may spur other thinking. That’s perfectly OK with us,” he told reporters.

“At the University of Denver, we feel it is our duty to stimulate informed public debate over issues critical to Colorado,” Coombe said. “Through our Strategic Issues Program, we are able to bring together some of the state’s greatest minds in an inclusive, nonpartisan manner that raises the level of public discourse and contributes to the public good.”

Previous DU panels examined Colorado’s economic and water issues. In the coming months, the University will select a strategic state issue for the 2008 panel to study.

Recorded presentations, discussions and videos of the panel’s work are online at

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