- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 13, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska lawmakers can keep eating lunches and dinners paid for by lobbyists, at least for now.

A proposed ban on meals lobbyists provide at the Capitol during legislative sessions stalled in the Legislature on Wednesday before senators could vote on it. The measure’s sponsor said he plans to reintroduce it next year as a bill instead of a legislative resolution.

Sen. Ernie Chambers said he introduced the measure to stop his colleagues from “mooching” off of paid advocates, and to protect the integrity of the Legislature.

“Ask your constituents if they approve of you sponging off the lobbyists,” Chambers told his colleagues.

Lobbyists have fed senators for years, pooling their money for sandwiches, pastas, salads and other food that lawmakers eat in a private room behind the Capitol’s main legislative chamber. The meals are usually provided during longer days when sessions are nearing an end.

The meal ban was one of three resolutions the Legislature debated Wednesday. Speaker of the Legislature Galen Hadley had allowed 30 minutes of debate for each one. Chambers said he assumed senators would vote after that time was up, but instead, they moved on to the next resolution without voting.

Hadley defended the time restriction, noting he did the same thing for four bills last week. Those bills died without a vote because of a filibuster led by Chambers, who was angry about a vote on medical marijuana legislation.

Some lawmakers acknowledged that they partake in the meals, but disputed that it influences their decisions. Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln noted that no lobbyist has ever joined lawmakers in the room where they eat, except for one who represents Nebraska restaurants which provide the food.

“It’s done as a convenience for legislators so that we can continue our business without leaving the halls of the Capitol, and so we can get back and do our business sooner,” Coash said.

Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island said food isn’t enough to sway his vote.

“Free meals? I’ve had a few. But it’s never changed my view,” he said.

Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins said lobbyists provide important information for lawmakers and shouldn’t be vilified. Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft said senators never really know who pay for their meals.

Chambers said he plans to introduce the ban next year as a bill, which is guaranteed a public hearing and could force at least some senators to go on record.

“They won the skirmish here by not letting me get a vote on it,” Chambers said after the proposal was scrapped. “Now the war comes when I put it out there (as a bill). The public will have a chance to weigh in on it.”

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The measure is LR414

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