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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 Senator: It's Not Just Lobbyist-Paid Meals But 'Free Cigars, Free Booze'

Robert S. Donovan
Washington lawmakers may accept 12 free meals per year from lobbyists.

Nearly two years after public radio and the Associated Press investigated lobbyist-paid meals for Washington lawmakers, the issue is still a topic of discussion in the legislature.

A Senate panel Thursday took testimony on two proposals related to gifts of food and beverage.

As of January 1, Washington lawmakers are now restricted to accepting 12 free meals per year from lobbyists. Now the Legislative Ethics Board wants a law passed to require lawmakers to formally report those free meals.

Democratic state Senator Jamie Pedersen is the prime sponsor of the measure. At a public hearing, Republican state Senator Pam Roach asked him whether the reporting requirement would extend to gatherings at lobbyist-owned houses near the Capitol.

“If it’s just going after meals, I think we ought to be talking about free cigars, free booze in establishments right across the street,” Roach said. “That’s worse in my mind than having a bowl of soup with somebody at lunch.”

A beer and cigar at a lobbyist’s house might not trigger the proposed reporting requirement for lawmakers unless food was included. Another competing measure would only require reporting of meals over $50 in value.

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."