SALEM - A judge on Thursday refused to block strict limits on lobbyist gifts in Oregon's new government ethics law but held off ruling on whether the limits violate free-speech rights.

Portland lobbyist John DiLorenzo had sought to keep the limits from taking effect Jan. 1. He contends they are an unconstitutional restriction on lobbyists' free expression rights.

In his ruling Thursday, Marion County Circuit Judge Joseph Guimond turned down DiLorenzo's request for an injunction.

Guimond also ruled initially that the gift limits are constitutional and necessary to avoid any appearance that government officials are being bribed or corrupted by gifts.

But he withdrew that portion of the ruling later Thursday, saying a final decision would come after additional proceedings.

"There's going to be no quick resolution to this," DiLorenzo said afterward. "But I am still confident that the courts ultimately will find the these limits violate the constitutional right to free speech."

DiLorenzo filed the lawsuit shortly after the 2007 Oregon Legislature passed an overhaul of Oregon's ethics law that restricts food, trips and other gifts that someone could give to a public official to $50 per calendar year.

Further, it bans lobbyists from providing entertainment or honoraria - usually payments for speeches - to those officials.

The new lobbying law was approved by the Legislature after advocates said it was needed to restore public confidence in government after a half dozen or so state lawmakers failed to disclose trips paid for by special interest to Maui and other locales in 2002 and 2004.

DiLorenzo said, however, that lobbying amounts to constitutionally protected "political expression," that the limits are overly restrictive and that they will interfere with lobbyists' ability to communicate with lawmakers.

Besides imposing the tougher gift limits, the new ethics law requires more frequent spending reports by lobbyists, raises potential fines from the current $1,000 to $5,000 per ethics violation and requires a waiting period before legislators can become lobbyists.

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