OLYMPIA, Wash. -

A legislative ethics panel has taken a preliminary vote to limit the number of free meals lawmakers can accept from lobbyists to 12 a year.

The Legislative Ethics Board on Tuesday voted 5-3 to define, for the first time, what current law means when it prohibits public officials from accepting free meals on more than "infrequent occasions." The rule wouldn't take effect until a final vote later this year.

The proposed change comes after The Associated Press and a consortium of public radio stations found that the state's 50 most active lobbyists spent $65,000 in meals for lawmakers in the first four months of 2013. Last year, the board dismissed a complaint filed about the practice, noting that that the "infrequent occasion" rule is not clearly defined in the Ethics in Public Service Act.