Committee approves gift ban rule reversal, heads to House floor

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Last year, the Minnesota legislature passed a last-minute exemption to the gift ban, allowing lawmakers to accept food and beverages from lobbyists under certain circumstances.

This year, just hours into the new session, some lawmakers are working to reverse that exemption.

On Tuesday, a House committee approved the reversal of those recent changes to Minnesota’s long-standing ban on legislators accepting gifts from lobbyists. The bill now heads to the House floor for a vote.

The exemption allowed lawmakers to accept food and beverages from lobbyists – as long as every member of the legislature was invited, MPR reports. This last-minute amendment in 2013 weakened the gift ban rule and allowed lobbyists to throw parties for lawmakers, KSTP says. Before, lawmakers were restricted on their ability to attend free events sponsored by lobbyists, according to the Star Tribune.

The Star Tribune reports, House Speaker Paul Thissen said the House agreed to the provision last year as part of a compromise with the Senate. Now, lawmakers want this exception reversed.

The changes made in the 2013 legislative session moved Minnesota’s disclosure laws from some of the best to some of the worst in the nation, according to political analysts. Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL–Golden Valley) told MPR the change to the gift ban rule was subtle, but it is having an effect on the legislature.

“While it may be true that everybody is invited, and you might say that can’t influence one particular legislator, the problem is is that it allows well-heeled interests to set the agenda here even more than they do already,” Winkler said during an Elections Committee hearing, according to MPR.

MRP reports, Winkler said lobbyists are trying to play the system – for example, scheduling events in remote parts of the state with the idea that not every legislator can or will attend.

Now, the bill will go before the House floor and Thissen is confident he has the votes to reverse the new gifts ban rule, according to MPR. As for the Senate, Winkler is unsure if it will agree to reverse the changes from 2013. He pointed out the bill could end up in a conference committee report, which would prevent the Senate from voting on the reversal as a stand-alone issue.

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