Among the first bills being considered when lawmakers return to St. Paul Tuesday is one undoing a measure backed by a Rochester senator that allows lobbyists to throw receptions with free food and drink for legislators.
Last session, Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, successfully amended a campaign finance bill to allow lawmakers and legislative employees to attend these receptions without having to pay. It does require, however, that all 201 lawmakers are invited and given at least five days' notice. In the past, lawmakers were prohibited from accepting free food and drinks at receptions unless they were making a speech or answering questions as part of a program.
Rep. Ryan Winkler DFL-Golden Valley, has sponsored a bill to reinstate the ban on free food and drinks for lawmakers. It is slated to get a hearing before the House Elections Committee within minutes of the legislative session starting.
Winkler said he was forced to include Senjem's amendment loosening the gift ban in the final version of his campaign finance bill because Senate leadership demanded it be included. But he said he has always opposed the measure and wants to see the gift ban reinstated.
"What it does is it gives people with money the ability to spend more time mixing with legislators," Winkler said. "I don't think Legal Aid is going to be hosting an event that all legislators can come to for free."
So what does Senjem think about efforts to undo his amendment? The Rochester senator said he does not expect this measure will get any traction in the Senate this year. He said the goal behind loosening the gift ban restrictions was to make it easier for lawmakers to get to know each other socially outside of the halls of the Capitol.
"It creates a small opportunity at least for all of us to gather up on occasions and meet with each other at places not at the state Capitol," he said. "We don't have an opportunity to meet each other, see each other socially as much as we should."