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Higginbotham wants to ban all gifts

The commissioner says pursuing ethics reform was a campaign promise he made. His proposal includes financial penalties.

If Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham gets his way, he and fellow board members will no longer be allowed to accept gifts of any sort from anyone.

Plaques and lunches that come with community meetings would still be okay, as prescribed by state law governing what legislators can accept from lobbyists.

This would extend the gift ban to all people who might have some interest before the county and include anything from boxes of tomatoes to tickets to the Tampa Sports Authority luxury suite during pro football games.

What's more, commissioners could be subject to financial penalties if found in violation of the gift ban - $250 for the first offense, $500 for subsequent ones.

The first offense for lobbyists who engage in their trade with county officials without disclosing it, something that gets them a warning now, would cost them $250. A third offense could result in a yearlong ban on lobbying county officials.

Higginbotham said he's not responding to anything he has witnessed since being elected in November, but rather fulfilling a campaign promise to pursue ethics reform in the commission.

"It's just a commitment that I made during the campaign of improving our image in the eye of the public," he said.

Commissioners reached Tuesday said they would withhold judgment on the proposal until they hear more from Higginbotham when he takes the proposal to the board today.

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