Pinnacol spending bill may limit expenses even further

A bill designed to put a stop to lavish “business” trips taken by governmental entities, such as Pinnacol Assurance, was laid over Wednesday after Democratic senators proclaimed the bill still too lenient with taxpayer dollars. The bill was laid over in the Senate Judiciary Committee to determine support for an amendment.

Jenny Flanagan and Lois Tochtrop speaking on a bill to curtail future Pinnacol Assurance travel expenditures

HB 1211 caps governmental entity travel expenditures at 200 percent of the IRS recommended per diem and was set to easily pass the Senate committee Wednesday before being stopped by concerns that 200 percent was still too high. Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, said the IRS per diem was enough for anyone’s travel expenses. Newell said her vote hinged on whether the bill was amended to reduce the allowable expenditures.

The recommended IRS per diem travel expenditure is $207 for Denver.

Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate had said that she would be willing to have it amended on second reading on the House floor but she said she was not seeking an amendment currently because she wasn’t certain it would fly in the House. Chair of the committee Senator Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, worried the bill might not have support in the House if bill were amended to further reduce the allowable travel expenses and pushed the bill’s vote back to a later date.

Carroll told the Colorado Independent that she needed time to figure out how the amendment would affect the bill’s chances of passing.

Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, said that one of the reasons the bill was laid over was that he too was debating whether he would vote on the bill if it was amended to allow just the IRS recommended per diem amount.

As it stood during committee the bill already had one no vote. Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, said that disallowing governmental entities like Pinnacol from paying for spouses to go along on company trips was simply too much for him to bear. He said a spouse is critical to an employee’s ability to function on a team.

“If that is where the lines are drawn than I am drawing a “no” on this one,” Lundberg said. “Believe it or not, spouses are about as important to the mix of anyone’s performance as anyone can imagine.”

Tochtrop however, said that that portion of the bill was not one she was willing to amend out.

“I would be appalled if the State of Colorado, or any public entity would [pay for] a spouse to go to a business meeting,” Tochtrop said.

The bill was written to exclude spouses of employees from having trip expenditures paid for by a governmental entity after former Pinnacol Board President Gary Johnson brought his wife, and ethics member Debra Lovejoy brought her fiance on a golf trip to Pebble Beach where everything from massages to pink golf balls were provided by the pseudo-governmental entity. In the end, the 5-day trip cost $318,717.

“We are talking about taxpayer money here. People had a right to know on this and know that everyone is tightening their belts,” Carroll said.

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