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Judge rules portion of Denver ballot issue invalid

A judge ruled against a provision that would have required the city to enforce its camping ban within 72 hours of a citizen complaint.

DENVER — A Denver judge on Sunday ruled that part of an initiative on the ballot in Tuesday's election is unlawful. 

The initiative at hand is Denver Ballot Issue 303, which deals with enforcement of the city's camping ban and creating safe outdoor spaces.

The judge has ruled against a portion of the initiative that would have required the city to enforce the camping ban within 72 hours of a citizen complaint. 

Right now, a federal court order requires the city to provide seven days' notice before enforcing the camping ban and clearing an illegal encampment. If Issue 303 passed as written, and the city did not respond to a complaint within three days, anyone could sue the city and seek compensation. 

Because of this ruling, if this initiative passes, that 72-hour window won't be enacted.

However, the other elements of the measure would stand, including a requirement that the city provide four safe outdoor spaces for legal urban camping.

"Courts don't like to make changes to the way elections work right before the election takes place," said Holland & Hart attorney Christopher Jackson. "I do think that this points up a perennial problem in elections, which is that it's very difficult to administer them on time and make sure that everything is fixed before the election takes place."

Jackson said that it is not unusual for the judicial branch (Denver District Judge) to tell the legislative branch (in this case, voters deciding a ballot issue) that it has overstepped by trying to tell the executive branch (the city of Denver) how to enforce a law it wants to pass.

"The state constitution gives the voters the right to legislate, to pass pieces of legislation through the initiative process, but it doesn't give voters the right to decide how those laws area administered or executed," said Jackson. 

Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson argued in Denver District Court on Friday that the three-day enforcement requirement should be stricken from Ballot Issue 303, even as voters have already turned in their ballots and continue to turn them in until Election Day on Tuesday.

Bronson made the case that Ballot Issue 303 intrudes on the executive branch by dictating how the city administers the enforcement of the camping ban.

In court Friday, attorney Suzanne Taheri defended the head of Denver's Republican Party, who helped get the issue on the ballot. She argued that the judge should dismiss the case.

RELATED: Denver challenges ballot issue 303 in court as election approaches

RELATED: Voter Guide 2021: Everything you need to know about the election in Colorado

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