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Hillsborough commission bans gifts from lobbyists

Hillsborough County commissioners will no longer be allowed to accept gifts of any value from people who are paid to lobby them.

Commissioners unanimously placed the restriction upon themselves Wednesday, allowing new member Al Higginbotham to say he fulfilled a campaign pledge.

Higginbotham, elected in November, said he pursued the measure to address perceptions that commissioners are beholden to people who do business with the county, rather than as a fix for any actual wrong he has witnessed.

"This to me is just a step forward in working toward the perception," he said.

State law bans gifts valued at more than $100 from lobbyists to elected officials and requires disclosure of gifts from others when the value exceeds $100.

Higginbotham's ban should have a modest impact. The county has required disclosure of all gifts from lobbyists since 2002. Since then, none have been reported.

Higginbotham previously had sought to ban all gifts from anyone who might do business before the county, regardless of whether the gift givers are paid for their work. But most of the other commissioners said such a ban was overly broad and would fix something that was not broken.

Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.

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