Battle Anew Brewing Over Amendment 41

The off-again, mostly on-again battle over implementing Amendment 41 is back on again, with proponents renewing calls on the state Senate to quit “dragging their feet” – or risk a statewide ballot amendment this year that would clarify the muddied language, as well as impose a $50 occupational tax on lobbyists.

The renewed warning comes three weeks after the state House of Representatives and the state Senate reached a compromise and announced that lawmakers who had been at odds over implementing Colorado’s voter-passed ethics in government amendment had agreed to work toward implementing it into law. But on Thursday, Mark Grueskin, a Denver attorney who has been working with its original sponsors, including Jared Polis and Colorado Common Cause, said that if the legislature hasn’t referred an “appropriate” interrogatory to clarify a portion of the amendment’s language to the Supreme Court by close of business this coming Tuesday, April 17, his group will move forward with an initiative for this November’s ballot.

Grueskin and his group originally announced plans to push an amendment this year on March 21, the day after state Sens. Andy McElhany and Peter Groff announced their own proposal to send portions of Amendment 41 back to voters in ’08. When Grueskin’s group upped the ante, leaders from the House and Senate majority and minority parties agreed to a compromise. But, three weeks later, Grueskin says, the Senate has still been slow to move – especially on the interrogatory to be sent to the Supreme Court.

“If the Senate refuses to act in a timely way, then the public will have to step in,” Grueskin said.

Senate Bill 210, which would implement the voter-approved law, is currently in the House of Representatives awaiting a third reading. But the interrogatory is currently awaiting action in the Senate and has yet to be sent to the Colorado Supreme Court with a request to weigh in on its constitutionality, Grueskin said. Part of the holdup, he said, appears to be questions over the wording of the interrogatory, which he understood would ask for clarity over the portion of the ethics in government law that addresses “public trust for private gain.”

“We never heard this was an issue until recently, and now it will likely be the fly in the ointment,” he said.

On Thursday, Zach Knaus, the Senate Majority Communications director, said he was unaware of the group’s plan – or their complaints. A message seeking comment from Groff, the sponsor of Senate Bill 210, was not immediately returned.

Statewide initiatives can be placed on the ballot in off years if there is a tax proposed – in this case a $50 occupational tax on lobbyists in Colorado. The tax would be used to pay for the ethics commission that would oversee complaints, which was approved as part of Amendment 41. If another statewide ballot measure moves forward this year, Grueskin said, he anticipates Polis, and others, will foot the bill. 

The original March 21 agreement by House and Senate majority and minority leaders included plans for:

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