Ethics Commission reform survives Republican ‘no’ votes

A bill to clean up the state Independent Ethics Commission narrowly passed its first committee hearing Tuesday, despite opposition from Republicans and commission chair Bill Leone.

Related: State auditor finds Ethics Commission has ethics problems of its own 

Leone testified he hadn’t seen the bill until recently and the commission had never discussed it publicly. That claim raised the hackles of the commission’s critics.

The commission’s attorney helped revise House Bill 16-1216, said Peg Perl of the nonprofit government accountability group Colorado Ethics Watch and bill sponsor Rep. Beth McCann, a Denver Democrat.

Discussing the bill was on the agenda for the commission’s meeting last week, a conversation that took place in a secretive executive session.

Before the hearing, at least one commissioner knew what was in the bill. Former state Rep. Matt Smith of Grand Junction submitted an undated two-page letter to the committee spelling out his concerns.

The biggest proposed change under the bill would allow the commission to hire its own attorney instead of relying on one from the Attorney General’s office. Currently the commission relies on the Attorney General for legal counsel, which critics say creates a conflict of interest, because the commission has jurisdiction over the Attorney General.

The bill to reform the commission passed on a party-line 6-5 vote.

Republicans voted against it, in part, because of Leone’s complaints that he hadn’t seen the bill, as well as concerns expressed by Smith, who argued the measure underestimated how much private attorneys would cost the commission.

Photo credit: Dannon Loveland, Creative Commons, Flickr

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.