No free lunch, or breakfast, or dinner
DENVER One state lawmaker says he ate just one shrimp at a recent reception for fear of violating a strict new ethics law. Another says he sometimes has a bowl of cereal for dinner instead of the sandwiches and hors d’oeuvres he used to nibble at gatherings.There’s no such thing as a free lunch at the Colorado Capitol since voters passed Amendment 41 last fall. Free breakfasts and evening receptions have vanished, too, in a cloud of confusion and jokes about exactly what is forbidden and what is allowed.
The stakes are much more serious beyond the dome. The attorney general’s office has said Amendment 41 bars even some scholarships to the children and grandchildren of government employees.But backers of the amendment say officials are overreacting. They insist that scholarships are still legal for government workers’ families as long as the awards are competitive, and not given simply because a student is related to a lawmaker.And they say legislators can still meet with anyone who wants to talk to them.”The conversations haven’t ended,” said Jenny Flanagan, executive director of Colorado Common Cause. “It’s just happening in a different way. It’s a culture change.”
Amendment 41 bans lobbyists from giving any gifts, including meals, to lawmakers. Anyone else can give gifts up to $50 to lawmakers, other government workers, contractors and their families. Former lawmakers must also wait two years before returning to the Capitol to work as lobbyists.The National Conference of State Legislatures has called it the toughest ethics rule in the nation.The Boettcher Foundation, which awards near-full-ride scholarships to Colorado students to attend college in Colorado, said it may file suit to get a court ruling to clarify who is eligible for such aid.According to the attorney general’s office, scholarships would be banned for families of government employees unless they are tied to some future goal like keeping a certain grade-point average or graduating.
The Boettcher Foundation is set to interview 72 finalists for 40 scholarships this month, and anyone in violation of Amendment 41 could be forced to repay twice the scholarship amount.”They’re vying for something that is life changing for them. They’re scared. They’re parents are scared,” said Tim Schultz, the foundation’s executive director and president.Many lawmakers are poking fun at their new lifestyle under Amendment 41. At one drawn-out hearing, Democratic Sen. Jim Isgar of Hesperus offered colleagues a jar of peanuts, assuring them it was part of a buy-one-get-one-free deal and, therefore, had no value.But others say the law has made it tougher to do their jobs. Republican Sen. Ken Kester of Las Animas – the lawmaker who said he sometimes has Life cereal for dinner – said meeting with lobbyists over lunch helped him understand the issues because it’s impossible to read all of the hundreds of bills introduced each year.
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