Proposal to ease gift ban moves ahead
A Senate panel moved forward today with a measure that would relax the gift ban to legislators.
The bill would allow legislators and their employees to accept gifts valued at less than $100. The senate president or House speaker would have to approve gifts valued at more than $100.
Gifts valued at less than $25 would not have to be reported.
The proposal passed 7 to 4 out of the Senate rules subcommittee on ethics and elections.
Sen. Dennis Jones, R—Seminole, is sponsoring the legislation, which he called a "modest modification" that would allow legislators to avoid wrangling over small things like cups of coffee or to attend dinners back in the district.
The legislators who sided with him -- Democrats and Republicans -- agreed that the ban had unintended consequences. Vice-chairwoman Nancy Detert, for instance, said her friend, who happens to be a Realtor, couldn't take her to lunch because her profession has a lobbyist. She called it "hair splitting."
"It's probably more brave of us to vote for your bill than it is for you to sponsor the bill since you're term limited out," Detert told Jones. "If we vote for it, we're going to be ridiculed in the press."
Sen. Steve Oelrich, a Cross Creek Republican, told Jones his bill was a good one but that he couldn't support it because of the perception that the legislature was now taking "freebies" amid a series of austerity measures.
"I'm absolutely in support of this but i think the timing is bad," he said. "I'd love to support this but, the timing, I think we would quite frankly get roasted in the press."
Voting for the measure were Republicans Detert; Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, Paula Dockery and Garrett Richter and Democrats Arthenia Joyner, Chris Smith and Oscar Braynon. Opposed were Democrat Eleanor Sobel and Republicans Oelrich, John Thrasher and David Simmons.