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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 State Ethics Ruling Could Lower Bar For Foreign Trips

Pam Roach

A Washington lawmaker’s trip to the Middle East in 2013 was legitimate legislative travel -- not an illegal junket.

That was the ruling over the weekend from the state’s Legislative Ethics Board. And that decision could make it easier for state lawmakers to accept free trips.

In May of last year, Republican state Senator Pam Roach went on a 10-day, all-expenses-paid trip to Turkey and Azerbaijan. The trip was funded by a Turkish-American group that promotes cultural exchanges to that region of the world. The itinerary included tourist activities as well as meetings on issues like energy policy.

After she returned, Roach defended the trip as legitimate legislative business.

“I was able to participate and I was very glad that I did,” she said.

This year, Roach is up for re-election. He opponents filed an ethics complaint alleging the trip was an illegal gift. The Legislative Ethics Board concluded there was enough connection to Roach’s duties as a lawmaker to justify the trip.

Mike O’Connell, the Board’s legal counsel, said this ruling creates a new standard for acceptable legislative travel.

“Anything that meets this level or above, we’re going to say ‘go,’” he explained.

Going forward Washington lawmakers will be able to accept free trips that are “sufficiently related” to their official duties whereas before a trip had to have a “substantial” legislative purpose.

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."