Colorado state Sen. Kerry Donovan

Colorado state Sen. Kerry Donovan is the new chair of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)

A former archaeologist turned state senator is working to bring a substantial piece of Colorado’s history front and center.

Senate Bill 75, proposed by Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, would allow for the original Colorado constitution, adopted in 1876, to be displayed in the statehouse. That bill was approved by the Senate’s Committee on State, Veterans and Military Affairs on Wednesday with just one vote against.

Donovan said that due to her experience as an archaeologist, she is fascinated by artifacts that “tell us our own story.” And in researching the measure, Donovan said she learned quite a bit about the 150-year-old document itself.

For example, copies of the original constitution were also made in German and Spanish. That tidbit of information and many more would be a great learning experience for all who visit the statehouse, but particularly the elementary school classes that so often visit the building, she said.

While the bill appears to be without controversy, displaying such a historic document is not without a substantial cost. The 40-page manuscript, bound within a 12-page document, requires special care.

The document is currently on loan at History Colorado in Denver, Donovan said.

There it’s on display with climate control, protective lighting and additional security, according to the bill. Every so often museum archivists must turn the document’s pages to ensure it’s properly preserved.

Upfront costs for the display are the most substantial, estimated in the bill to be 69,230, which includes an appraisal of the document and the installation of special lights and security cameras.

The most expensive piece, however, is the design and construction of the display case itself, which is estimated to cost $53,300.

After the constitution is installed, however, annual costs are estimated to amount to $3,390, the bill says, though estimates are subject to change.

If the bill is approved, experts and archivists will have to weigh in on the process before anything can be set behind protective glass.

But it was those costs that caused Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, to vote against the bill.

“I’d love to be able to see it,” Sonnenberg said. “But I don’t think we can afford to do that here.”

But nobody else opposed the bill, and the committee approved the measure in a matter of minutes.

“I’m very glad you are restricting it to the original constitution, otherwise it would take up the whole room,” committee member Sen. Lois Court, D-Denver, said with a chuckle.

With the committee's approval, the bill was passed to the Senate's Committee of the Whole, where it will be heard Thursday at the earliest. 

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