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A SETBACK FOR LEGISLATIVE ETHICS

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Maybe the Utah Jazz have to start losing before state lawmakers agree to stop taking free tickets from lobbyists.

But then, if demand is the only factor involved in limiting expensive gifts, Utahns likely will have to wait forever for state lawmakers to enact true lobby reform - the kind that requires them to give up even their free meals. In any event, it isn't likely to happen this year.Once again, the Legislature has failed to pass a bill that would have placed a $50 limit on gifts. This year, the legislators not only rejected the idea, they dropped kicked it out the window with hardly a second thought. Members of the House State and Local Affairs Committee refused even to allow any public comment on the idea.

No wonder. The public doesn't like its representatives taking expensive gifts and probably would have had something unpleasant to say about the matter.

Rep. Jordan Tanner, R-Provo, has been relentless in introducing the ethics law each year since 1993. Last year, he succeeded in getting lawmakers to report the gifts valued at $50 or greater. But now his colleagues are starting to treat him like a pariah whenever he brings up the subject of legislative ethics.

How unfortunate. The idea behind the legislation is that expensive gifts can influence legislation. Lawmakers, after all, are human, and the notion that laws can be purchased is anathema to democracy.

Just as important, however, is the notion of fairness. Lawmakers already passed a law placing a $50 limit on the gifts all county and city elected officials can receive. Why should state legislators consider themselves above such rules?

Free meals and Jazz tickets can be enticing. But, even if they truly believe these items don't influence them, lawmakers ought to send a strong signal about consistency and loyalty by giving them up - or at least placing strong limits on them.

Two-thirds of the State House of Representatives would have to vote to bring Tanner's bill back for consideration. That isn't likely. Just the same, Utahns ought to demand it.