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Washington Ethics Board Adopts 12 Meals-Per-Year Cap For Lawmakers

Robert S. Donovan

Starting in January, Washington lawmakers will be barred from accepting more than 12 lobbyist-paid meals per year.

The state’s Legislative Ethics Board adopted that limit Tuesday after months of public hearings and deliberation. The issue of free meals first came to light in May of last year when we reported with the Associated Press on the practice of lawmakers letting lobbyists pick up the tab.

Some lawmakers did this even while receiving a daily stipend from taxpayers to cover expenses.

State law allows lawmakers to accept gifts of food and beverage on “infrequent occasions.” But “infrequent” had never been defined. In the end, the Ethics Board unanimously settled on 12 sit-down meals a year.

Richard Hodgin of Seattle is pleased. He filed an ethics complaint that was later dismissed against several lawmakers who often dined at lobbyist expense.

“I’m absolutely delighted that they’ve come down to 12,” Hodgin said. “I think that’s a really good place to be at this point.”

Hodgin said the next step should be a requirement that lawmakers report the free meals they accept. The Ethics Board will consider asking the legislature to enact a reporting requirement.

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."