Posted: Feb 18, 2013 5:41 PM by Associated Press
PHOENIX (AP) - The cozy relationship between lawmakers and lobbyists could get a little less familiar under a proposed ethics overhaul that seeks to give the public a more detailed look into Arizona politics.
The bill advanced by the Senate's Judiciary Committee on Monday expands the definition of legal and illegal gifts and would require lobbyists to file monthly expenditure reports detailing any gifts made to lawmakers. The lobbyists would have to state which exemption applied to the legal gifts and list the retail value of the item. They would also have to let lawmakers know the value of the gift. Violators could face felony charges.
Republican Sen. Michele Reagan said she is working with lawmakers, legal officials and lobbyists to ensure some changes are made despite opposition from some legislators and lobbyists who benefit from the status quo.
"I asked them, 'how much can you stomach?'" Reagan told The Associated Press on Monday.
Reagan said the public is still reeling from a Fiesta Bowl report released in 2011 that disclosed numerous legislators had accepted free trips from the bowl in recent years. Many lawmakers did not list the trips on their financial disclosure reports.
"The public really wants transparency on the interaction between legislators and lobbyists," Reagan said.
Reagan's desire to compromise was apparent Monday as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle said the proposed changes were too broad and restrictive. After Democratic and Republican lawmakers complained about a proposed ban on legislators soliciting for charitable organizations during the legislative session, Reagan told the AP that she would submit an amendment to remove that provision, despite it being one of her pet issues.
Critics also complained about the definition of a gift. Lawmakers are able to receive gifts from family under current statute, but the law does not specify that gifts from close friends are legal, complained Republican Sen. Adam Driggs, of Phoenix.
"A gift should be a gift and it shouldn't even be a question if I get something from my parents or my wife at Christmas, the fact that we have to have a carve out on this concerns me that maybe that gift definition is a little too expansive," Driggs said. "It should just be common sense."
Reagan said it was necessary to list exemptions to clarify what is or isn't legal.
So how far would the ethics revamp go?
It states that a gift is any type of payment, expenditure, donation or property. Family gifts, employer compensation, campaign contributions or gifts received before a candidate is sworn in are excluded under the ban.
Democratic Sen. Steve Gallardo insisted the legislation didn't go far enough because it didn't require lawmakers to list specific items on financial disclosure forms.
"The financial disclosure, which we are all required to file, really needs some cleaning up, too," he said.
Last year, the Senate shot down an ethics overhaul that would have limited free meals, trips and other contributions from lobbyists.
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