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Amendment 41 Has Become a Fine Mess

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I’ve written about the efforts to clarify Amendment 41 before, but the newest update to the saga is worth a mention. I’ll let the Advertisement

Opponents have hired former state Supreme Court Justice Jean Dubofsky and other lawyers to consider a legal challenge to the law, which was passed by voters in November.

In recent weeks, numerous lawmakers and interest groups have criticized Amendment 41, which puts strict limits on gifts and services to lawmakers and most state and local government workers, among other things.

Backers say the amendment was meant to curb the influence of lobbyists and special interests in places like the state legislature. But critics say the law is so sweeping that it prohibits children of public employees from receiving college scholarships or University of Colorado professors from receiving Nobel Prize money, for example.

Democratic and Republican legislative leaders don’t want to touch the law even though they don’t like it. They say it represents the will of the voters and oppose any attempt to soften its impact.

In other words, supporters of Amendment 41 have hired some of the most powerful lobbyists in the state to help them clarify a measure designed to limit the influence of lobbyists.

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Yep. You read that right.

Amendment 41 has certainly become quite a mess, and you can see the merits of the arguments on both sides. On the one side is the group that says Amendment 41 should not be clarified in any manner because the voters approved it as-is with an overwhelming majority in November.

On the other side is a group, which includes Jared Polis and Common Cause, which says Amendment 41 was never intended to cause some of the problems that it might ultimately create – such as preventing scholarship winners from accepting their awards if their parent(s) are state employees.

There are also politics involved here (as there always are), some of which I explained in a previous post. Polis and Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald are the two frontrunners to replace Rep. Mark Udall when the latter runs for the U.S. Senate. Polis’ bid for congress will be severely damaged if Amendment 41 is not “clarified,” because then he’ll have to run for office as the guy whose amendment took scholarships away from kids. That’s not good, and Fitz-Gerald knows it, which is a big reason why she has no desire to see Amendment 41 altered in any way.

Republicans are also coming out in favor of keeping Amendment 41 the way it is for political reasons; they hope that Democrats will alter the amendment, and then they can go back to voters in two years and say, Democrats changed the meaning of an ethics amendment that YOU voted to support.

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If Amendment 41 prevents certain kids from accepting scholarships, obviously that is a bad outcome that was not intended by the people who wrote the language of the measure – and it surely wasn’t what voters thought they were voting for. But at the same time, in some ways you get what you pay for here, and I really have a problem with the statement from the creators of Amendment 41 that goes something like this: “Obviously, this isn’t what we intended.”

But you wrote the amendment.

Saying “This isn’t what we intended” is like calling your spouse a bad name and saying, “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” You can’t press rewind and re-word your insult because it didn’t turn out well.

Back when the language for the amendment was being drafted, critics warned that Amendment 41 was too vague and could create unintended problems. Those concerns fell on deaf ears at the time, which is a shame because all of this could have been avoided with a little more attention to detail. When the amendment was being drafted, all they had to do was to write the language so that it was more specific. But they didn’t, and now they’re scrambling to fix it.

Now, rather than discussing the merits of lobbying reforms and the fear of preventing scholarships from being awarded to students, the talks over Amendment 41 have become symbolic. Can you change the meaning of something that the voters approved? If you can, and if you should, then who gets to decide what the true meaning is supposed to be?

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Right now, it looks like lobbyists get to have that discussion.

They just can’t do it over dinner.

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