May 20, 2016
On May 16, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld a decision of the Title Board to allow Initiative #63 to be placed on the ballot this coming November. Initiative #63 seeks to amend article II of the Colorado Constitution to establish a “right to a healthy environment.” The proposed initiative declares that “the natural persons of Colorado, including future generations, have an inherent, indefensible, and inalienable right to a healthy environment” and deems that right “a fundamental right.” In addition, the initiative requires state and local governments to assign the highest priority to the protection of a healthy environment. It also creates an enforcement mechanism under which an aggrieved person or governmental entity can sue to enforce the provisions of the new right.
Colorado’s Constitution requires constitutional amendments proposed through the initiative process to be limited to a single subject. The Court’s majority opinion held that, although Initiative #63’s language arguably includes more than one subject, the provisions are directly tied to and implement the initiative’s central focus, and therefore does not violate the single subject requirement.
In addition, the Court held that Initiative #63 does not violate Colorado’s clear-title requirement for constitutional amendments, which requires an initiative’s single subject be clearly expressed in its title.
This ruling pushes Initiative #63 closer to a November vote. But there are a number of questions still to be answered. Chief among them are questions regarding the definition of a “healthy environment” and how to assess the overall health of an environment. There are also unanswered questions over the obligations this initiative puts on state and local governments. As Colorado moves closer to the upcoming November elections, expect to hear more about Initiative #63 and its potential impacts.
This article is intended to provide general information and, therefore, should not be treated as legal advice. If you have questions about a specific legal issue, you should seek the advice of a qualified attorney.
Authors: Ryan Lorch and Rudy Verner