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Safety Clauses and Act-Subject-to-Petition Clauses

Published
11/05/2020

Executive Summary

Article V, section 1(3) of the Colorado Constitution reserves to the people the power to refer all or a portion of an act to the ballot for voter approval. There are two exceptions to this power: 1) Laws "necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety"; and 2) appropriations for the support and maintenance of the state departments and state institutions. To invoke the first exception, the General Assembly includes language in a bill, referred to as a "safety clause", which is derived from the language in the first exception.

Case law concerning the use of the safety clause in legislation clearly states that the General Assembly may prevent the people from referring an act to the ballot by declaring that the act is "necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety". Further, the General Assembly is vested with exclusive power to determine whether that declaration is appropriate. The question of including the safety clause in legislation is a matter of debate in the legislative process, and the courts will not review or call into question the General Assembly's decision.

If a bill does not include a safety clause, it is subject to the power of referendum. An individual has 90 days after the General Assembly adjourns sine die to exercise that power by submitting a petition to the Secretary of State's office. Thus, a bill that does not have a safety clause must include an act-subject-to-petition clause, and the bill cannot take effect until at least 90 days after the General Assembly adjourns sine die.