Ethics bills receive approval in Missouri House

From St. Louis Public Radio’s Marshall Griffin

The Missouri House approved four ethics bills Thursday, just over a week after the start of the new legislative session, making them the first House bills of the 2016 session to be sent to the Missouri Senate.

The bill that got the most attention during debate Wednesday was HB 1979, which would require a one-year cooling off period before former lawmakers and statewide elected officials could become lobbyists.

“This is not a perfect bill, this is not a silver bullet,” said sponsor Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, “but what it is is a step in the right direction to tell our constituents that we have heard their voices, we have heard their concerns, and we will do everything within our power, this year with this bill and others that we will see on this floor, to remove the distractions, to remove the barriers to good governance.”

Democrats tried but failed to add an amendment that would have increased the cooling off period to three years. It would have taken effect immediately for everyone currently serving in the legislature. As the bill is now written, it would not affect those elected to office before 2016.

“This process has been frozen,” said Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia. “People are tired of politicians proposing changes that don’t apply to themselves;  this should apply to us.”

Republican Jay Barnes of Jefferson City fired back:  “It does, in fact, include us.  There are 25 seniors (who can’t be re-elected due to term limits); those are the ones excluded. Eighty-five percent of the people in this body are covered by this bill.”

The other bills given House passage Thursday are:

HB 1452 — would require twice-yearly filings of financial disclosure reports

HB 1983 — would bar lawmakers and statewide elected officials from working as paid political consultants

HB 1575 — would require disclosure of third-party payments of lawmakers’ lodging and travel expenses within 30 days

Democrats, including Rep. Jon Carpenter of Gladstone, also criticized Republicans for not allowing them to add amendments to include campaign contribution limits.

“This is our first day of working on legislation as a body, Mr. Speaker, and when tactics are already being used on the first day to prevent good amendments from having a good discussion on this floor, I think it’s a real shame,” Carpenter said. “I think it sets us off on the wrong foot.”