Senate sinks gift-ban exemption
A move to carve out a $20 exemption from the lobbyist gift ban failed in a Senate committee Thursday and prompted its sponsor to accuse his Senate colleagues of "a lack of courage" and being "hypocritical." Those words came from Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, who led a parade of business owners who testified that the zero-tolerance policy toward lobbyist-paid meals and drinks has badly hurt the capital city's economy.
Lawson's bill (SB 1506) would have created a narrow $20 exemption for events such as Chamber of Commerce breakfasts and luncheons. He said the gift ban has had the unintended consequence of preventing even innocent socializing between lawmakers and advocates.
But Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, visibly shaking his head, called it "absurd" for lawmakers to be defending free meals when state workers face layoffs.
"I got to give credit to the press. They got 'em gun-shy," Lawson said after the vote. Tallahassee Mayor John Marks called the 7-1 vote "another slap in the face to local government." (In photo at left, that's the mayor at far left and Andy Reiss, owner of Andrew's Grill & Bar, at Lawson's left). Read the full story on the gift ban exemption.
Steve Bousquet, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau