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February 26, 2008
Dear CU Community,
As you may have heard, on Monday the Colorado Supreme Court issued an order that effectively reinstates Constitutional Amendment 41. There are still legal proceedings taking place, and it will be several weeks before the full impact of yesterday’s decision is known. However, we can provide some guidance based on what we know today.
Voters approved Amendment 41 in November 2006. Among other things, it prohibits certain public officials, including university employees, from receiving gifts of money or items worth more than $50, subject to several important exceptions.
After a great deal of confusion throughout state government, including the University of Colorado, over the scope and reach of the Amendment, a Denver judge issued an injunction last May that put the Amendment on hold. Yesterday, the Colorado Supreme Court overturned that injunction.
The court made it clear Monday that the Colorado Ethics Commission, created by Amendment 41, has the first responsibility for interpreting the scope of the Amendment. The Ethics Commission is charged with receiving and investigating complaints for violations of the Amendment, assessing penalties and issuing advisory opinions.
Additionally, since the passage of the Amendment and the last guidance issued by the university, the Colorado Legislature passed a law that provides more clarity. The new law makes it clear that public employees will only face penalties under the Amendment if they receive gifts given for the purpose of influencing an official act performed in the course of public duties. That means scholarships and gifts received in the context of our personal lives are not likely to be the basis of an actionable complaint by the Ethics Commission.
University legal counsel will continue to analyze this issue, consult with the Colorado Attorney General, and carefully monitor the ongoing court case and the pronouncements of the Colorado Ethics Commission (as soon as it is fully constituted). We will provide more guidance to the university community as it is available, and employees should consult with the Office of University Counsel with specific questions.