The Petition Clause versus the Safety Clause

The final Section of a bill that is introduced in the Colorado General Assembly explains when and how that bill would become law, if it were to pass through both legislative chambers and the governor does not veto it. That final Section of a bill will either be a petition clause, which would state “Act subject to petition – effective date” or a “safety clause”, which could indicate an effective date.

When a petition clause is used, it honors the fact that the people of Colorado reserved for themselves in Article V, Section 1 of the Colorado Constitution “…the power at their own option to approve or reject at the polls any act or item, section, or part of any act of the general assembly.” The use of a petition clause delays implementation of a bill for 90 days following the adjournment of the general assembly from the session during which that bill was passed.

Anyone who wishes to do so, may file with the Colorado Secretary of State for a referendum petition to stop such a bill from becoming law. The Secretary of State works with the petition applicant to establish the required number of signatures, which is equal to 5% of the total votes cast in the previous secretary of state general election. The petition applicant would then need to submit at least that number of qualified Colorado voter signatures within that 90-day period following adjournment of the legislature.

If the petition applicant successfully submits enough qualified signatures, then the Secretary of State confirms sufficiency, and the subject bill remains on hold until the next even-year general election. Then, a question would appear on the statewide ballot during that even-numbered year so that Colorado voters would have opportunity to decide whether that bill becomes law.

When a safety clause is used, a bill can become law upon signature of the governor and the referendum petition process cannot not be used. The website of the Colorado Secretary of State explains that here.

But the story doesn’t end there. Note that Article V, Section 1 of the Colorado Constitution states that the people of Colorado reserved for themselves the power to approve or reject “…any act of the general assembly.” It doesn’t say some acts (bills) or just those in which a petition clause was used.

If a safety clause was used in a bill, then the people of Colorado still have the power to repeal the resulting law through the initiative petition process, which is different from the referendum petition process. Under the initiative petition process, the same number of qualified signatures are required, but law would be in effect. If the required number of qualified signatures are collected within the designated timeframe, then the question is placed on the next even-year ballot and the voters of Colorado would ultimately decide whether that existing law should be repealed or remain on the books.

It works that way in Colorado because that’s how the people of Colorado wanted it to work.

** The information provided herein is intended for general educational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you have questions of a legal nature, please consult with an attorney.

** Civics Corner content was written with the help of former Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert.

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