The Utah state senate has revised its rules in order to substantially change its long-standing food-for-access practices. The changes come a year after CitizensForTaxFairness.org proposed a number of similar reforms and several weeks after the Salt Lake Tribune posted a complete list of who was providing meals and snacks for legislators.
Traditionally, individual lobbyists and other organizations such as the Huntsman Cancer Hospital, Primary Children's Hospital, the Salt Lake Chamber and Rio Tinto have provided caucus lunches for Senators and in return they have been given time to present their bills and requests for appropriations to the entire Democrat and Republican Senate caucuses. This gave these lobbyists and organizations a huge advantage over those who were not able to purchase similar access.
Under the new policy, Senators use their per diem to buy their own caucus lunches and they decide who, if anyone, will be invited to address the caucus.
Senate Republicans continue to hold closed caucus meetings where they make key decisions on legislation and other matters outside of public view. Democrats continue to hold open caucus meetings.
The new Senate rules also place restrictions on individuals and groups who provide a snack for Senators. Those providing the snack have access to a break area that is off limits to the general public in return for special access to Senators.
Under the new rules, lobbyists and others can still provide snacks and they can be in the restricted break area; however, they are prohibited from talking to Senators about bills and appropriations. They can explain who they are, their organization’s mission, etc. Following this change, a number of organizations scheduled to provide a snack reportedly withdrew their generous offers.
The third change ends the practice of groups delivering gifts for all Senators and then having Senate Pages distribute them directly to each Senator’s desk. Now those wishing to give gifts have to track down each Senator individually in order to present the gifts. Existing gift laws remain unchanged.
This rule change only applies to the Senate. The Utah House of Representatives has long precluded lobbyists from paying for caucus meals and unlike the Senate Republican Caucus which is closed to the public and media with only limited exceptions, the House Republican caucus is open to the public and media with only limited exceptions.
In addition, the House currently allows those providing snacks in the House break area, which is off limits to the general public, to talk about issues but not about specific bills or appropriation requests. The House currently allows gifts to be distributed by House Pages as long as the value of each gift is $10 or less and the distribution is sponsored (signed for) by a member of the House. This practice is currently under review and may require a formal rules change.