By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Despite objections from Philadelphia’s political watchdog group, a City Council committee today gave initial approval to specific limits on the value of gifts that city workers can accept.

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The city’s five-decades-old gift law had never sets limits on the value of gifts that city workers, including elected officials, can receive.

Today, Council’s Committee on Law and Government debated City Council president Darrell Clarke’s plan that would set the top value of gifts at $99, with a total ban on cash gifts.

The independent Board of Ethics — which had worked for months on its own regulations — supported Clarke’s plan. Executive director Shane Creamer (lefthand photo above) told councilmembers the line needs to be drawn somewhere, and this line mirrors that used in other cities.

“Absolute gift bans are both impractical and unreasonable, and do not exist anywhere in the country,” Creamer said.  “Bright-line rules set clear boundaries and are easier to comply with than abstract standards.”

But Ellen Kaplan, of the watchdog group Committee of 70 (righthand photo), argued that the dollar limit should be $50, not $99 — an amount that she said will get you a pretty good meal at Barclay Prime on Rittenhouse Square, “which is the Barclay Prime’s Philly Classic Cheesesteak, with ribeye, cut down with fois gras and topped with truffled homemade fontina cheese on a sesame roll, plus a glass of champagne.  With $99, you can pretty much eat at the most expensive places in town,” she noted.

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Kaplan also objected that the limits on event tickets would not apply if the city employee simply passes the tickets on to someone else.

“That means that somebody who has city business can give tickets to the Super Bowl, or a Rolling Stones concert, (and the worker) can accept them as long as they don’t use them — they can just give them to members of the public,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan’s objection about re-gifting prompted a rebuttal from councilman-at-large Jim Kenney:

“If someone gives me tickets to the Diamond Club for the Phillies, and I give them to them a single mother with two kids who probably will never get to the Diamond Club in their lifetime, is that improper?  If I get four tickets to an Eagles’ game and I give them to four nuns who are working with the homeless, is that improper?” he asked.

The committee was not persuaded by the Committee of 70’s objections and unanimously approved the measure.  It now goes to the full Council.

Aides to the mayor also spoke in support of the proposal.

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