Some Utah House members are wagering their Senate colleagues will not pass gift-disclosure or gift-banning bills this session — and if so, the gravy-train from lobbyists to legislators will keep on running.

It's a pretty good bet, as Senate GOP leaders said Tuesday, that after the House passed a Democrat-sponsored gift ban bill there is little appetite to deal with the issue this session.

A Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll recently showed that 76 percent of Utahns want such gifts banned. But senators are turning their noses up — again — at the idea they not take meals, Jazz tickets, rounds of golf or other gifts routinely given by some of the 450 registered lobbyists.

Several times in the past decade other representatives played the same "government reform" cards. And each time the Senate let the House so-called "ethics" measures die.

"What service do (gifts) provide on (setting) good public policy?" said sponsor of HB94, Rep. Pat Jones, D-Cottonwood Heights.

HB94 would ban most gifts valued at more than $5. However, there are exemptions in a number of areas — like legislators could still take gifts if all members were invited to an event, or a subcommittee or task force were all invited to an event paid for by lobbyists.

The House had previously passed a bill by House Majority Leader Jeff Alexander, R-Provo, which would have required more disclosure by lobbyists of which lawmakers accept their gifts. That bill has been held in the Senate.

And Tuesday, Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, said senators have little interest in either banning or disclosing what gifts they are taking.

"The Senate really sees some of these issues differently," Valentine said.

He said he doesn't see meals as gifts, and would be supportive of Jones' bill if it excluded meals from the banning limit.

Valentine then went further, questioning the need for any action on lobbyist gifts this session.

"The present system seems to work. We haven't seen abuses in the present system," Valentine said, questioning why lawmakers "cast around for any solution for something that isn't a problem."

So should the topic just be dropped? "I'd be OK with that," Valentine said.

But all 75 House members are up for re-election this year, only half of the 29-member Senate.

Just after the House and Senate broke for lunch Tuesday, the House went into a caucus where they paid for their own lunches, while the Senate broke for lunches paid for by lobbyists.


E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com; lisa@desnews.com