Legislators give up their fight for freebies — for now

Every year, the Legislature seems to have an issue that drains its energy with negative vibes — all to no avail in the end.

In 2011, it was SB 671, a gutted ethics bill that attempted to expand the freebies legislators could receive from special interests. It finally met an inglorious death yesterday with a deferral motion in the House Judiciary Committee.

It started when lawmakers’ noses got out of joint after the state Ethics Commission said they couldn’t accept free tickets to a dinner sponsored by a politically connected group with all kinds of interests before the Legislature.

The ruling was a fair reading of the 39-year-old gifts law, which bars legislators and other state officials from accepting freebies that can reasonably be inferred as intended to influence or reward them in the performance of their duties.

The first salvo by Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria would have gutted gift limits and allowed legislators to accept — or even solicit — dinners, trips and other gifts worth up to $200 from just about any special interest.

The bill whittled down by the Judiciary Committee and passed by the Senate was the most benign version offered, limiting the freebies to fundraising events of IRS 501(c)3 organizations (public charities and private foundations).

Judiciary Chairman Clayton Hee said he’d abandoned the measure if the Ethics Commission opposed, promising, “Let me say that if the Ethics Commission decides this is a no-go, the chair of the committee will concur that it is a no-go.”

Assuming Hee was good to his word, the bill was dead when the Ethics Commission voted 3-1 to oppose it, but the House pushed ahead with its own version that restored all of the worst aspects of the original Senate bill by opening the door for business organizations, labor unions, trade associations and even foreign governments to ply them with gifts.

Though the House finally gave in to overwhelming public opposition and killed the bill, there’s no sign that lawmakers took any lesson as to what was wrong with it. The betting here is that it’ll be back in some future session when they find the timing more advantageous.

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3 Comments on “Legislators give up their fight for freebies — for now”

  1. David Says:

    Definitely time for a whole new legislature. Vote NO INCUMBENTS!

  2. charles Says:

    And if it never comes up again?

  3. Michael Says:

    Let’s see what happens to Tam, dealing with his punishment.

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