House makes good on Speaker’s promise: gift ban proposal first out of gate

The Missouri House made good on its speaker’s promise that the first bill it would send to the Senate this year is a proposal to ban gifts from lobbyists to legislators.

Representative Justin Alferman's gift ban proposal garnered more votes than its 2016 version.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Justin Alferman’s gift ban proposal garnered more votes than its 2016 version. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 60 is sponsored by Hermann Republican Justin Alferman.  He said its goal is to ban the giving of, “individually, personally consumable gifts,” to legislators.

“What we are limiting is legislators’ ability to take free things,” said Alferman.

Under the bill, meals to which all members of the General Assembly and all statewide elected officials are invited to and that are held in Missouri with 72-hours’ notice would be allowed.

The bill was amended from its initial version to remove language regarding legislators accepting meals at events at which they speak.  Alferman said a review of other state law and the Ethics Commission’s interpretation, that language was found to be unnecessary.

“What we were trying to do was make sure that individuals can still speak to their local chambers or local business organizations and do so as part of a public presentation.  We quickly realized that the language that we included was unnecessary and probably was actually a loophole that could have been exploited,” said Alferman.

Other changes in the bill clarify that flowers and plants may be given to legislators as “expressions of condolence or congratulation,” and plaques given by organizations to recognize a lawmaker would be exempted from the ban as well.

The bill goes to the Senate which last year failed to advance a similar proposal.  Alferman thinks HB 60 is as likely as it can be to reach Governor Eric Greitens, who he notes has been supportive of a gift ban.

“I think with the added push from [Governor Greitens] and with the dedication of [Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard] and [Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kehoe] and Senator [Bob] Onder, I am confident that it has the best opportunity of passage that it ever has,” said Alferman.

The bill cleared the House with overwhelming bipartisan support, 149-5.  Some Democrats did say they hope it will not be the last action the House takes to address ethics, and Alferman said he agrees.

      “I think the next one on the plate absolutely should be Representative [Shamed] Dogan’s (R-Ballwin) bill to basically address the lobbyist concern that we have on local governments, that being cities, counties, school boards, school administrators,” said Alferman.  “I think that’s probably one of the most under understood and underutilized lobbyist restrictions that we have currently in the state.”

House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) said on the opening day of the session that he wanted a gift ban to be the first bill the House sent the Senate.