House approves plan to create ethics commission
DENVER – The House approved a plan Friday to create an ethics commission to decide what gifts to lawmakers and state employees are legal, along with a companion measure that asks the Supreme Court to rule on whether the plan is legal.Opponents said the plan would make it almost impossible to punish a state employee even for egregious cases involving large sums of money, because it sets a strict standard to prove a violation.They said if the complaint didn’t meet that standard, it would have to be dismissed.”We’re talking about whether you even get your foot in the door, and you’re talking about mandatory dismissal,” said Rep. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora.She said if the complaint is dismissed, it becomes confidential and there is no public record.House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, disagreed and said it was a good compromise.”I think we showed good faith in this chamber to implement a constitutional amendment that is at best muddled,” Romanoff said.Romanoff added an amendment that would delete any portion of the new law if it is found to be unconstitutional, then voted with the House to ask the state Supreme Court for a ruling on whether the proposal is legal.The plan itself now goes back to the Senate to consider the amendment.Under the measure (Senate Bill 210), the commission would define what the rules cover and decide how to enforce them.The bill is part of a compromise by legislative leaders to clear up confusion about the ethics rules.Voters approved Amendment 41 to ban lobbyists from buying meals or any gifts worth more than $50 for state lawmakers. The amendment also bans gifts to any state employee or their families worth more than $50. Employees of cities or counties with their own ethics guidelines are exempt.There’s confusion, though, about how far the ban goes. Lawmakers say it isn’t clear whether state employees’ families can accept certain scholarships, whether professors can accept Nobel prize money and what gifts state employees can take.Some lawmakers say their hands are tied because they are barred from passing any law that weakens the state Constitution.Jenny Flanagan, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, which proposed Amendment 41, has told lawmakers they have the power to go further and clarify the law.
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