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Senate panel tweaks controversial lobbyist gift ban

Seven years after the Florida Legislature passed a zero-tolerance ban on accepting meals, drinks and gifts from lobbyists, a Senate committee Monday took the first step toward loosening some of the law's restrictions. On a bipartisan 10-0 vote the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee carved out a couple of exemptions to the law, which has been widely criticized as too sweeping and burdensome.

The changes, sponsored by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, would allow legislators to accept free non-alcoholic drinks at functions sponsored by lobbyists, and would allow lawmakers to accept a free meal when giving a speech in the course of their legislative work to a trade group. Lee was Senate
president when the original gift ban was enacted in a special session in December 2005.

A similar House bill does not exist, but Lee said he has been in talks with House staffers about how to get the compromise through the two houses.

-- Steve Bousquet