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Pass long overdue gift ban

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Each year the irresponsible practice of receiving gifts from lobbyists continues at the Utah Legislature.

And each year Utah's lawmakers ignore the wishes of their constituents that they cut it out.

Last year, for example, 87 percent of the public, according to a poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates for the Deseret News and KSL-TV, favored a ban on lawmakers receiving gifts.

So much for wanting to do the will of the people. According to reports from registered lobbyists, nearly $200,000 was given by the lobbyists to state legislators and other executives and officials in 2001.

That total includes free meals, tickets to athletic events and entertainment events like concerts, travel, gifts and rounds of golf.

The University of Utah topped the list in spending on gifts to public officials, providing $23,504 worth of goodies.

And due to some nifty wheeling and dealing, lobbyists are able to get around the requirement of listing lawmakers' names if they spend more than $50 a day on them. A number of lobbyists have started "bundling" their gifts to legislators, which means they divide the cost. For example, two lobbyists will combine to pay for an expensive Jazz ticket or meal so that each lobbyist is spending less than $50 on that particular lawmaker. That then nullifies the legal requirement to list the lawmaker by name.

It's a sad commentary on Utah's State Legislature that the majority of lawmakers see nothing wrong with this. That's obvious because they keep defeating bills that would either sharply curtail or do away with such perks.

Democrats are going to propose legislation during the upcoming legislation that would ban lobbyist gifts to legislators in almost all cases.

House Minority Leader Ralph Becker, D-Salt Lake, who has backed such legislation in the past, is right when he says that there is no need for legislators to take anything, with the possible exception of small items like a pen or soft drink, from people who are paid to influence them. The $70-$80 Jazz tickets that are "bundled" to avoid linking gifts to lawmakers by name would be out — as well they should.

By offering perks, lobbyists and other special interest groups receive access not widely afforded to constituents, who are the people most affected by a particular piece of legislation.

Some courageous Republicans need to join their Democratic counterparts and stop the gift-giving merry-go-round this legislative session.