- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2007

DENVER — An ethics initiative designed to keep professional football tickets out of the hands of state officials is threatening to deny scholarships to the children of public employees.

Amendment 41, approved by Colorado voters in November, prohibits anyone working for the government from accepting gifts of more than $50. Sponsored by Colorado Common Cause and bankrolled by Democratic multimillionaire Jared Polis, the idea was to stop lobbyists from influencing elected officials with lavish dinners and other perks.

Instead, the measure has triggered a backlash from government workers who now risk breaking the law if their children accept scholarships. Attorney General John Suthers said the measure also would prevent state university professors from accepting monetary honors, such as the Nobel Prize.

“This is not just about a lobbyist giving a Broncos ticket to a state legislator,” said Michele Ames, spokeswoman for the First Amendment Council, which filed a court challenge Feb. 8. “There are very few people in this state who won’t be affected by this vague and poorly written law, from university professors to the guy who plows your snow.”

Among those feeling the effects are Tiffany Fisher, a straight-A student at William C. Hinkley High School in Aurora and a finalist for a Daniels Fund scholarship. She was told that she may be disqualified from the competition because her mother, Mary Arneson, works as an accounting technician at the state Department of Health. Without that scholarship, Tiffany’s chances of attending a four-year college are bleak.

“My mom is a single parent,” she said at a press conference. “There’s no way she can pay for it herself.”

Virginia Buczek quit the Firestone Planning Commission for fear that her $200 monthly stipend would jeopardize the scholarships of her two daughters attending the Colorado School of Mines.

The uproar has the amendment’s sponsors scrambling to reverse the damage. Mr. Polis has hired a team of lawyers and lobbyists to push for legislation that would “clarify” the amendment’s intent.

“Whatever action is needed to provide clarity so that students can receive scholarships and professors can receive Nobel Prizes, that’s what we want,” said Mark Grueskin, an attorney for the Article 29 Coalition. “We just want this to be resolved as quickly as possible, and we think legislation is the way to do it.”

State lawmakers say it’s not that easy. Amendment 41 was approved by the voters and legislators worry that any vote to clarify the measure’s intent could be construed as a vote to violate the Colorado Constitution. Despite misgivings, House Speaker Andrew Romanoff is pressing forward with legislation to tweak the amendment and thus put the issue before the state Supreme Court by asking for constitutional guidance.

“Nobody here wants to violate the constitution,” said Mr. Romanoff, a Democrat. “But the Supreme Court will only take up a question when the issue is ripe … I think we ought to try.”

The Daniels Fund and the Boettcher Foundation have sued to be exempt from Amendment 41. On Feb. 9, Denver District Court Judge Christina Habas ruled in Boettcher’s favor, pointing to a provision in the law that allows larger gifts if the recipient gives up something in return. Boettcher meets that provision because scholarship winners must maintain a 3.0 grade-point average and attend a Colorado university, she said.

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