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August 20. 2013 7:52PM

Lawmakers seek guidance on taking gifts, paid trips

Legislators may have their travel expenses paid by an outside organization if the trip is a bona fide conference, meeting, seminar or education program, but junkets, site-seeing, pleasure trips and gifts would be a problem under and advisory opinion given preliminary approval by a legislative committee Tuesday.

The Legislative Ethics Committee gave preliminary approval Tuesday to an advisory opinion that attempts to clarify what is a legitimate trip paid for by an outside organization and what is not.Committee chair, attorney Martin Gross, said that section of the ethics law is complex and confusing about what is allowed and what is not.

There needs to be some element of public policy discussion, he noted.

"On the whole, it's a matter of honesty by legislators when they report reimbursements for travel," Gross said, noting a lawmaker could include a copy of the agenda when filing the reimbursement form.

But Senate member Jim Rausch, R-Derry, said if the trip makes someone a better legislator that is fine.

"Foreign travel is what troubles me," he said. "We as a legislature do not have the ability to engage in legislation that is foreign in nature."

But House member Jordan Ulery, R-Hudson, noted a legislative committee deals with Canadian trade and said immigration legislation here could be impacted by something that happens in Mexico.

Gross noted there is nothing in the statute that forbids foreign travel.

He said the preliminary memorandum tries to articulate more clearly what is allowed and what has to be reported.

Members must file reports on honorariums lawmakers receive with the Secretary of State's Office and they are public records, Gross noted.

Anyone can review the reports and if they believe there is something questionable, they can file a complaint with the committee, he said.

The committee is expected to finalize the memorandum at its next meeting Oct. 2.

grayno@unionleader.com


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