Term-limited lawmakers traveled on state’s dime | AspenTimes.com

Term-limited lawmakers traveled on state’s dime

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Four Democratic lawmakers went to state-paid conferences around the country after the legislative session ended last year even though they were term-limited, according to travel records.

The trips totaling $6,100 are legitimate under ethics laws but taxpayer advocates say the travel expenditures were unwise because those lawmakers were not returning to the Capitol.

“It’s a joke. I’m sorry but it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” said former Denver Republican state Rep. Ruth Prendergast. Prendergast, now a member of the conservative watchdog group the Colorado Union of Taxpayers, said some of the confeferences can be beneficial but a lot of it is play.

Former Reps. Cheri Jahn, Debbie Stafford, Alice Madden, and former Sen. Bob Hagedorn defended their travel to The Denver Post, who reported the story Sunday.

Hagedorn, who went to Washington D.C., and New Orleans during the summer for conferences on health care and technology, said he shares the policy information he learns on the trips with his former colleagues. Madden, the former House Democratic leader, is now the Gov. Bill Ritter’s climate-change coordinator. She said what she learned during a New Orleans conference on climate change and energy will be useful at her new post.

Jahn and Stafford, meanwhile, went to Anchorage, Alaska, to a conference that included a glacier cruise and wildlife tour, as well as a five-day meeting of the Council of State Governments-West.

Jahn said the glacier tour provided fodder for conversations about global warming, and that meeting with the council, where she is part of the executive committee, was helpful because she made sure Colorado lawmakers kept prominent roles in the group.

“We put the whole new (CSG-West leadership) board together,” she said. “If Colorado doesn’t have a voice on that, we really miss out.”

Each chambers gets $50,000 a year for travel expenses but those funds have been frozen as the state faces a budget crisis.

In all, 21 Democrats and one Republican, attended three conferences in 2008 using state money. About $31,000 was spent on those trips. Republican Senate leader Josh Penry said fewer of his colleagues are traveling to conferences because a 2006 voter-approved gift ban makes it difficult to figure out what they can and cannot attend.

The travel by the term-limited lawmakers was approved in February 2008, before the state faced a projected $1 billion shortfall the next two years.

Former Senate Democratic leader Ken Gordon said the four lawmakers were still representing their constituents during those trips and until their replacements officially took office this January.

“Your constituents keep calling you even when you’re out of office,” he said.

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