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Government and Politics
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 Senators Want Ethics Boards To Define 'Infrequent' Meals

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Washington Legislature
Washington state Senator Joe Fain

Nearly a dozen Washington state senators have signed onto a proposal that would direct legislative and executive ethics panels to clarify the rules for lobbyist-paid meals.

Washington law allows state lawmakers to accept free meals from lobbyists on an "infrequent" basis. But that’s never been defined.

Last year, along with the Associated Press we reported on lawmakers who regularly allowed lobbyists to pick up the tab. That prompted an ethics investigation that ultimately cleared lawmakers named in the complaint and deferred to the legislature to define “infrequent.”

But Republican Senator Joe Fain believes ethics watchdogs, not lawmakers should make that call. "So that there’s no question in the minds of either lobbyists, legislators or the public what that standard is."

Fain does believe the legislature should require electronic reporting of entertainment expenses. His proposed bill would charge lobbyists an annual fee to create a new online reporting system.

Fain says his interest is in making sure the reports are accurate and transparent to the public.

State Representative Jim Moeller, a Democrat, has long pushed for electronic filing of lobbyist reports. He says he’s been assured his measure will get a vote in the Democratically-controlled House this year.

Moeller adds that he thinks lawmakers are in a position this year to define what "infrequent" meals means.