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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington Ethics Board Tackles Lobbyist-Paid Meals

Robert S. Donovan

Washington’s Legislative Ethics Board is tackling the issue of how often lawmakers can accept meals from lobbyists. The Board spent nearly two hours behind closed doors Thursday discussing a complaint against several lawmakers who dined out regularly with lobbyists last session.

The complaint was triggered by our investigation with the Associated Press into lawmakers who accept free meals from lobbyists. That’s permitted if legislative business is discussed, but only on an infrequent basis.

We found dozens of lawmakers who accepted multiple meals. State Representative Jamie Pedersen, who serves on the Legislative Ethics Board, says one challenge is the term "infrequent" has never been defined.

“I think one of our most important functions is to help legislators comply with the statute and so I think we will have a responsibility as a Board to provide some clarity for legislators going forward about how they can comply with this statue.”

Pedersen says no decision has been made on how to proceed with the complaint or whether to issue new guidance to lawmakers. The discussion over lobbyist-paid meals will continue at the Ethics Board’s October meeting.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."