TALLAHASSEE -- Florida lawmakers have complained for eight years that they can't even accept a cup of coffee under the lobbyist gift ban. They could have that cup of coffee under a bill that won its first committee approval Monday.
Sen. Tom Lee, who is given credit for the gift ban passed in 2005, is sponsoring the bill (SB 1344). He says it tweaks the zero-tolerance gift ban without going back to the days when lobbyists routinely spent tons of money on expensive meals and drinks for lawmakers.
Lee's proposal would allow exceptions for one non-alcoholic beverage. It would also allow a meal, beverage and registration fees for a scheduled meeting or event in which the lawmaker is asked to speak or make a presentation. Another exception would allow the use of meeting space in government to government events.
"It's very narrowly drafted and as long as you're having a single meal in a single sitting associated with a speaking engagement, I don't think there's much opportunity for us to go awry," said Lee, R-Brandon.
And if lawmakers do accept a meal at an event at which they're speaking, they will have to report it.
"I want to thank Sen. Lee for tweaking this law. It was needed," said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, who has complained in the past about not being able to accept a bottle of water when visiting district schools.
Lee originally drafted the bill to allow lawmakers to accept meals up to $25 at widely attended events that the media were also allowed to attend, but removed the language because it was difficult to write it so that it couldn't be exploited.
"It's unfortunate, but bad apples spoil the bunch," said Lee.