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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Lawmakers face new rules on free meals

OLYMPIA – Washington lawmakers face new rules for meals that lobbyists pay for, starting in January.

The Legislature’s ethics board recently set a new limit of 12 free meals that a lawmaker can accept from a lobbyist in any given year, The Olympian reported.

The rules seem less hazy than the previous understanding of the law’s allowance for “infrequent” meals from lobbyists. But there are still areas of confusion, including determining the value of free food and drink at receptions.

The public-disclosure rules have changed, as well, including an increase from $25 to $50 for a reportable entertainment event.

Meanwhile, the ethics board is urging the Legislature to require more transparency.

The board voted 5-2 last week to ask the House and Senate to pass a law requiring that individual lawmakers report whatever free meals they accept. The board wants lawmakers to list every event and the value of meal and drinks received, regardless of cost, over the course of a year. The data would go on the personal financial disclosure statements filed yearly.

Grant Degginger, chairman of the commission, said the commission changed two of its rules in a bid to update the law and make sure rules were clear and easier to follow. He said the public is more concerned about intimate meal settings where a few lawmakers and lobbyists meet to discuss policy, and the new rules still ensure that those meals are reported by lobbyists when total outlays are above $50 for the event.

The $25 threshold for reporting had not been adjusted since it was set in 1978, and Degginger said that adjusting the figure for inflation would have raised it to $80 or higher, which he said even lobbyists thought was too high.