As a freshman lawmaker, state Rep. Steve Bergquist says hes learning about every part of state government he can manage -- case in point, a summer tour of the womens prison in Purdy.
Its safe to say last weeks trip was more fun.
Bergquist joined fellow Democratic Rep. Mike Sells and Republicans Rep. Norm Johnson and Sen. Steve Litzow on Saturday to watch the Washington Huskies embarrass the Boise State Broncos, 38-6.
They sat in University President Michael Youngs suite near the west end zone of the remodeled Husky Stadium.
Tickets, food and drinks are complimentary in the suite at UW. The same is true in President Elson Floyds box on Washington State Universitys 50-yard line, where Bergquist plans to be for the Cougars first home football game Sept. 14.
Such hosting of lawmakers is not unusual during football season and is allowed under state law, according to the Legislative Ethics Board, which confirmed that finding this week.
Lawmakers control how much state funding universities receive and set policy that affects the schools, including their athletic programs.
Im really looking forward to going, said Bergquist, a Renton teacher and UW alumnus who grew up a fan of the Cougars. Ive never been to a Cougar game and its something that as state legislators were really involved in -- funding issues and understanding where our dollars go. I plan on going on a tour of the school.
Bergquist checked with legislative lawyers before accepting the tickets.
Mike OConnell, the ethics boards lawyer, briefed the board Thursday on ethical questions raised by legislators. He said barring some special circumstances, events like those in the presidents box are presumed to be OK under an exemption to the normal $50 cap on gifts to lawmakers.
The exemption allows admission to, and the cost of food and beverages consumed at, events sponsored by or in conjunction with a civic, charitable, governmental or community organization.
Whats not exempt, OConnell said, is for a university to give free tickets to lawmakers to sit elsewhere in a stadium without bringing them up to the suite. That would be forbidden if the tickets add up to more than $50 in a year. Nor may lawmakers bring their spouses to the presidents suite for free without falling under the gift limits, OConnell said.
OConnell said the question came from an unnamed legislator who thought he or she could obtain tickets to college games by request.
The answer, he said, is no.
We thought wed better re-spread the word that that was a little too broad, O'Connell said.
The ethics board last tackled the question more than a decade ago before many current lawmakers came to Olympia, he said.
It may seem like a strange distinction to forbid one free seat and allow another, more exclusive one, but the idea is to allow gatherings where business can be discussed while banning lawmakers from taking pure freebies, said a member of the ethics committee, Rep. Jamie Pedersen. The Seattle Democrat compared it to another exemption to the gift ban, this one dealing with free meals.
"The analogy would be that you can have a lobbyist treat you to a meal if the lobbyist is there, and you're talking about legislative business," Pedersen said.
It's all a bit academic to Pedersen. He's not a football fan, despite or perhaps because of childhood memories of spending birthdays at Huskies' games with his dad, a season ticket holder since 1955 who has missed few games in that time.
O'Connell reminded WSU and UW officials of the distinction, who say they already understood and complied with the rules. Other schools may be next to get the reminder.
UW spokesman Norm Arkans said school officials dont lobby legislators while they are visiting the suite.
This is basically a relationship-building occasion where they get to see their state university at work, Arkans said.
Chris Mulick, WSU director of state relations, said paying lawmakers' way is a fairly new practice there, and some hosted lawmakers still opt to reimburse the school for a ticket. Thats what Sen. Mark Schoesler, a Ritzville Republican whose district includes the university, plans to do next weekend when Southern Utah visits the revamped Martin Stadium.
I wouldnt want to see WSU accused of giving improper freebies away, Schoesler said.
My goal is to attend a couple of games every year, he said. For me its a fantastic opportunity to network with friends and constituents.
And to enjoy one other thing:
Cougar football, Schoesler said. Go Cougs.