Judge blocks enforcement of state ethics rules
DENVER – A state judge issued an order Thursday blocking new voter-mandated ethics rules that ban gifts to lawmakers and state employees, saying they “went well beyond what was anticipated or intended.”Denver District Court Judge Christina M. Habas issued a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the gift bans while opponents pursue a broader court challenge seeking to have the rules declared unconstitutional.Opponents of the rules declared the ruling a victory while supporters called it disappointing.It wasn’t immediately known if the state would appeal. Nate Strauch, a spokesman for Attorney General John Suthers, said that decision would be up to Gov. Bill Ritter. Ritter’s spokesman, Evan Dreyer, didn’t immediately return telephone and e-mail requests for comment.The rules are contained in Amendment 41, a constitutional amendment approved by voters last November. They ban lobbyists from buying meals or gifts worth more than $50 for state lawmakers. They also ban gifts worth more than $50 to state employees or their families.The rules left widespread confusion over how far they went. Suthers released an analysis in December saying the rules likely would bar university professors from accepting Nobel Prize money and prohibit children of public university employees from accepting many scholarships.In the court challenge, opponents argued the rules restricted the flow of information and had a chilling effect on people who wanted to talk to policymakers.Doug Friednash, an attorney for the group challenging the rules, called the injunction “a huge victory.”Since Habas ruled the opponents had a good chance of winning their broader case, “I think the future of Amendment 41 is very bleak,” he said. “It puts us in the driver’s seat to have this ruled ultimately unconstitutional.”The group challenging the rules includes nonprofits, an economic development organization, elected officials, state employees, a lobbyist and other individuals, Friednash said.Colorado Common Cause, one of the groups that campaigned for voter approval of the rules, predicted the courts would ultimately uphold a “commonsense” application of Amendment 41.Opponents were suggesting “wild interpretations” of the rules, Common Cause spokeswoman Jenny Flanagan said.Flanagan urged elected officials to abide by the rules despite the court ruling.”The fight for meaningful ethics laws in Colorado is far from over,” she said.Friednash said the state still has a number of other ethics rules in force.Two other provision of Amendment 41 were not challenged and remain in effect: One bars a statewide elected officeholder or state legislator from lobbying for two years after leaving office, and the other creates an independent commission to hear ethics complaints, assess penalties and issue advisory opinions. —Associated Press Writer Judith Kohler contributed to this report.
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