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More holes than cheese

The gift law that Florida legislators passed in such a hurry last winter, even as Gov.-elect Lawton Chiles was urging them to take more time for the sake of a better one, is turning out to have more holes than cheese. Try these for size: It's okay to ask lobbyists for $30,000 to buy food and drink for the annual convention of the National Council of State Legislators at Disney World in August. Legislators may also still put the touch on lobbyists for donations to their favorite charities. What makes these legal, notwithstanding the law that says lobbyists can't give more than $100 and legislators can't ask for any gift? The law does not apply, you see, if an organization, rather than an individual lawmaker, will be receiving the benefit. That will be a distinction without a difference to those lobbyists who had hoped for relief from the Legislature's finely honed shakedown skills and to members of the public who wonder why legislators can't simply pay for their own convention. The recession has cut deeply into convention-going among some industries that have to pay their own way, but Florida legislators who will be the hosts for the Disney World event expect a record turnout this year. Would that be the case if the nation's state lawmakers had to absorb the full cost or show it on their public expense accounts?

The Florida lawmakers would argue, of course, that such exceptions are exactly what they intended. In at least one case, however, the House's legal counsel has been more generous than the intent lawmakers expressed at the time they passed the law. One provision says legislators may purchase tickets from charitable organizations at less than face value. That was intended, or so the public was told last winter, to enable legislators to attend charitable fund-raising dinners, where politicians are frequently expected to show support, by paying only for the actual cost of their meals. It has now been interpreted, however, to allow one legislator to buy season tickets to University of Florida football games without making the $300 Gator Booster contribution that is required of other season ticket-holders. Since when is rooting for a football team on the same level as demonstrating solidarity with the Cancer Society?

Florida needs a constitutional amendment specifying that lawmakers will neither receive nor solicit gifts for themselves or anyone else.

Governor Chiles?

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