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Commission to consider ban on lobbyists' gifts

Without a reason for an outright ban, county commissioners questioned a need for it.

Hillsborough County commissioners will consider whether they should no longer take gifts from paid, registered lobbyists.

That possible tightening of their ethical rules falls far short what Commissioner Al Higginbotham wanted. He sought an outright ban on all gifts any value beyond the plaques, trinkets, fruit boxes and other items of limited cost that they often receive from constituents.

Higginbotham made the proposal Wednesday, saying he was fulfilling a campaign pledge aimed at improving perceptions of county commissioners rather than addressing anything he has witnessed since joining the board in November. But his idea drew an onslaught of questions from other commissioners over how to define gifts and where to draw the line.

"Are we returning Christmas gifts?" asked Mark Sharpe.

Commissioner Ken Hagan argued the proposal is more symbol than substance, since there was no evidence of a problem. The compromise that emerged was even more symbolic.

The board told its staff to draft a change in the ethics rules that bars them from taking gifts from paid lobbyists who are registered with the county. They'll vote on it at a later meeting.

State law already bans gifts from lobbyists valued at more than $100 and requires disclosure of gifts to commissioners from anyone else when they are valued at more than $100.

About four years ago, the county passed a rule requiring commissioners to disclose any gifts from lobbyists.

There has not been a single entry since the rule was passed.

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