AG, governor calm state workers over amendment fears

Legal News Line Feb. 14, 2007, 6:27am

John Suthers

DENVER -- A controversial ballot proposal passed overwhelmingly last year is causing serious concern among Colorado's state employees. So much so, in fact, that Republican Attorney General John Suthers and Democratic Governor Bill Ritter yesterday co-authored a letter to the employees urging patience while the legislature and courts decide what to do with it. Amendment 41, approved by 62 percent of the popular vote last November, bars politicians, state employees and their dependents from receiving gifts of $50 or more. Democratic State Representative Rosemary Marshall and Republican State Senator Steve Ward recently introduced legislation to implement the measure. The amendment also mandates a two-year "cooling-off" period before politicians and state office-holders can become lobbyists and creates a five-member independent Ethics Commission to investigate and penalize ethics breaches. Shortly after the election, Suthers released an interpretation stating that the amendment as passed would also prevent the children of state employees from receiving private scholarships. He said it could also prevent state-employed Nobel Prize-winners from receiving a cash prize. Some Colorado state employees have apparently taken Suthers at his word and voted with their feet on Amendment 41. "We are troubled by the recent reports of government employees leaving or contemplating leaving government service due to concerns over Amendment 41 and the restrictions that they fear it will impose on their children's opportunity...for scholarships," Suthers and Ritter wrote yesterday. "We ask for your patience and understanding while work continues to clarify the meaning of Amendment 41." Colorado Common Cause, a public advocacy group which strongly backed Amendment 41, argues that such interpretations are "contrary to the intent" of the measure. "The law seeks to eliminate the potential for money or favors to gain undue influence because of a person's position in government," the group stated in a posting on its web-site Monday. "Any application of Amendment 41 must be consistent with that purpose." Not surprisingly, Colorado's professional lobbyists have taken a keen interest in the wrangling over the wording versus the intent of Amendment 41. As a result, notes Cara DeGette at the blog Colorado Confidential, "lobbyists are lobbying over a bill designed to restrict the influence that lobbyists and other special interests have over politicians." Some Democratic lawmakers such as House speaker Andrew Romanoff believe that the amendment's language must be clarified to prevent negative interpretations like the private scholarship issue. Others say this can't be done without subverting the voters' intent.

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