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Bill to exempt use of public space from lobbyist gift ban passes subcommittee

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A House bill that would change the state-lobbyist gift ban to allow specifically local governments to offer meeting space to legislators passed its first committee stop on Tuesday.

The Legislature in 2005 cracked down on lobbyist gifts after news reports of lobbyists hosting lavish dinners with legislators to discuss pending bills.

The law prohibits lobbyists and the organizations they work for from offering, and a member of the Legislature from accepting, any direct or indirect “expenditure,” according to a Florida Commission on Ethics report.

But legislators say the ban and term “expenditure” shouldn’t apply to space in government buildings offered to them for public meetings. Some of those governments could be lobbying the state on issues.

HB 599 and SB 984 would specifically exempt use of a public building made available to a legislator for a public purpose regardless of whether the governmental entity is required to register as a lobbyist. Those facilities now are exempt under the House Administrative Policy Manual. However, food, entertainment venues and parking are not exempt.

“Members, as legislators, from time to time in an effort to bring legislative updates to our community, we will hold public hearings in our district,” said state Rep. Hazel Rogers, a Democrat from Lauderdale Lakes and sponsor of HB 599.

There were no questions by legislators and no one spoke against the bill before it passed the House Government Operations Subcommittee.

State Rep. Kevin Rader, a Democrat from Delray Beach, indicated that he hadn’t thought that use of public space could be a possible gift ban violation.

“If I got a public place that was a principal (from a government that is lobbying), I could possibly be breaking the law we have on ourselves,” Rader said.

The House bill has two more committee stops. SB 984 is being heard at 4 p.m. Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections, the first of three committee stops.

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee. 

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