The lawyer working to implement Colorado’s new ethics in government law is vowing to take Amendment 41 back to the voters this November if the state Senate refuses to quickly move forward with a bill that clarifies its broad language and a request that the Colorado Supreme Court weigh in on its constitutionality.
That’s right, this November. ’07, not ’08.
Denver attorney Mark Grueskin’s upped ante would also request voters to install an occupational tax on lobbyists to pay for a commission overseeing ethics in government. The cost for such a commission, which is required under Amendment 41, is estimated at $200,000 per year. The voter-approved tax would be between $25 and $75 per lobbyist, Grueskin said.The development comes a day after state Sens. Andy McElhany and Peter Groff announced a proposal to send the so-called Ethics in Government amendment back to voters in ’08. Then, voters would be requested to repeal 41, and adopt an ethics law that applies only to elected officials and policy setters. Until then, the broad interpretations of what most agree is a poorly-worded amendment – including that children of all government workers are prohibited from accepting scholarships – would stand.
“The Senate can do the right thing speedily if it chooses to do so,” Grueskin said. “If it doesn’t, then there is no reason to prolong the uncertainty, none.”
On Wednesday, Grueskin, who did not write Amendment 41 but who has been working with its original sponsors, including Colorado Common Cause, said the group will move forward with a constitutional amendment on this November’s ballot – a full year earlier than McElhany and Groff’s proposal – if the Senate refuses to send a clarifying request to the Colorado Supreme Court “in a timely manner.”
Grueskin identified that deadline as next Wednesday.
“If they are not willing to provide the clarity, then there are no options left,” he said.
Voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 41 in November, and lawmakers have been engaged in high political drama over implementing the law that cracks down on their ability to accept, among other items, free meals and sporting tickets.
Earlier in the session, Speaker Andrew Romanoff introduced HB1304, designed to modify the language of 41 to address what have been called “unintended consequences, and to set up an ethics commission. He also brought forward House Joint Reolution 1019, which would ask the Colorado Supreme Court to weigh in on whether the legislative bill is constitutional.
The two measures passed the House earlier this month and were referred to the Senate State, Veterans & Military Affairs committee today, Grueskin noted. However Groff, a Denver Democrat, and McElhany, a Republican from Colorado Springs, have balked over the proposal, arguing that the wording of Amendment 41 was so specific that the collective hands of the legislature are tied.
Groff and McElhany are sponsoring their own proposal, Senate Bill 210, which would set up an independent ethics commission and put 41 in place without additional clarification. Their bill also passed through committee earlier this month, and this week the two announced a plan to ask voters to repeal the ethics law in ’08.
Meanwhile, Grueskin warned that, “unless the Supreme Court gets House Bill 1304 and [the interrogatories] next week, there will not be time for the court to fully consider what is being proposed.” He based his timeline on past experience arguing before the court.
If the Senate does not move forward by next week, Grueskin said that his group will move forward with collecting the 76,047 signatures that will be required to place another amendment on this November’s ballot. Jared Polis, who helped sponsor Amendment 41, will likely be part of the effort, he said.
Bottom line, Grueskin said, he would prefer to refer the question to the Supreme Court.
“Why wouldn’t you allow the court to weigh in and answer the quest that is on everybody’s mind – whether the legislature has the legal authority to define the wording from 41?” he asked. “I haven’t heard one answer to that question.”
“There are two camps in the legislature, one that wants to provide immediate clarification and one that wants to defer,” he said. ‘My thought was, do we really have to live with cloud of uncertainty until ’08?
“We want everyone to understand there is an alternative to waiting for Godot.”
Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential, and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.