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Just say `no' to lobbyists' gifts

Utah's part-time lawmakers continue to be their own worst enemies when it comes to dealing with the issue of gifts from lobbyists.

Once again, despite a mandate from the public they serve, which wants an outright ban on all gifts, legislators have failed to address the matter during the current session.Unless they have a change of heart and quickly put something together, the current flawed law, which allows legislators to accept gifts of less than $50 without having them reported, will remain.

That's not good.

The current law includes loopholes that allow lobbyists and lawmakers to exceed the $50 gift limit and still not have the lawmaker's name recorded. Under the current lobbyist-reporter law, if a registered lobbyist spends more than $50 a day on any lawmaker, he must report the lawmaker by name on his public report along with the amount.

But because of a common practice called "grouping" among some lobbyists, certainly not all, that provision is sidestepped. It works this way: Several lobbyists will share the cost of a Utah Jazz ticket or a round of golf or other gift offered to a lawmaker. Because no single lobbyist spent more than $50 - although the combined total may be $200 - on the legislator, the lobbyists' individual reports show no legislator by name.

It's because of abuses like the above and the ill will they cause that this page has called for the banning of all gifts coupled with a raise in pay.

Currently, Utah's part-time lawmakers make $100 per day while the Legislature is in session. That should be boosted to at least $150 a day. Lawmakers fulfill a role of considerable responsibility. They need to be motivated, intelligent and committed to their work. A little more money would go a long way toward recognizing their worth.

But only if coupled with a gift ban.

Most Utahns - 71 percent according to a recent poll - want all gifts banned. The reasoning is sound. Issues and sound public policy should drive lawmaking, not the power of special interests.

Every year since 1992 Rep. Jordan Tanner, R-Provo, has tried to tighten the law on what kinds of gifts lawmakers take from lobbyists. His attempt this year once again has gone nowhere, not even to a committee's public hearing. Senate President Lane Beattie is working on a bill that he says is simpler to comply with and goes further than current law in terms of gift disclosure.

He is concerned about the negative publicity lawmakers receive when they accept gifts. A complete ban would provide an easy solution to that concern.