State panel limits free meals for lawmakers

  • By Jerry Cornfield
  • Tuesday, October 14, 2014 1:48pm
  • Local News

Washington lawmakers now have a limit on how often they can eat and drink on the dime of lobbyists and others trying to influence them.

They will be able to accept no more than 12 free meals from lobbyists each year under new rules adopted Tuesday by a legislative ethics panel.

On a 9-0 vote, the Legislative Ethics Board agreed to define, for the first time, a state law that says lawmakers can accept food and beverage paid for by lobbyists on “infrequent occasions.”

The new limit will take effect Jan. 1 and be in force during the 2015 legislative session.

Under the rules, breakfast, lunch or dinner will qualify as a meal if at least some of the time is spent discussing legislative business.

However, the panel made clear that it was not seeking to change existing law which exempts receptions hosted by an organization at which a buffet is set up and lawmakers encouraged to drop by for a nibble and bits of conversation. While legislative business is served up at such events, they are not intended as a sitdown meal.

Tuesday marked the panel’s fourth public hearing to clarify the state law, an effort begun after the Associated Press and two public radio stations, KUOW and KPLU, reported on how some lawmakers received dozens of free meals.

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, was spotlighted in the coverage for having benefited from free meals, drinks or golf on 62 occasions in the first four months of 2013, according to records.

Legislators must continue to report to the state Public Disclosure Commissioner when they are treated to a meal worth more than $50.

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