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Leading Colorado Senator Cleared In Ethics Case

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Sen. John Morse (credit: senatorjohnmorse.com)

Sen. John Morse (credit: senatorjohnmorse.com)

CONTEST

DENVER (AP) - Senate Democratic Leader John Morse — who collected legislative payments on days he golfed, traveled and got haircuts — was cleared of wrongdoing Tuesday by an ethics ruling that prompted senators from both parties to call for a review of the rules on per diem payments.

The case stems from a rule that allows legislative leaders to claim $99 a day for doing legislative work outside of session.

A government watchdog filed a complaint after comparing Morse’s per diem claims in 2009 against his public schedule. The complaint pointed out that the senator’s public schedule sometimes included no events that appeared to qualify: haircuts, golf outings and travel to an out-of-town wedding.

Morse also claimed per diem payments while on trips to China and California for legislative conferences where his meals and lodging were presumably already covered.

He insisted that he was doing eligible work on all the days he claimed.

The ethics panel, comprised of three Democrats and two Republicans, reviewed the complaint and unanimously voted Tuesday to dismissed it, acknowledging that a senator’s word alone is sufficient for claiming legislative per diem payments.

But the case prompted calls from both senators in both parties to review the Legislature’s per diem rules.

Republican Sen. Shawn Mitchell said leading lawmakers should have to explain a bit more what they do on days they claim payments.

“It gives taxpayers some idea of the activity that a leader has decided to conduct and charge them extra money for,” Mitchell said.

Democrats agreed.

The panel also decided to request new guidelines about how much time a lawmaker should devote to public business to claim a full day of payments.

“Is it your one phone call? Is it the whole day? The statute doesn’t say how much work is needed to claim the whole per diem,” Democratic Sen. Morgan Carroll said.

The ethics panel planned to write a letter calling for the Legislature’s presiding officers and top members of both parties to clarify per diem rules.

- By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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