Missouri House leadership is working to again make a proposed ban of gifts to lawmakers the first bill of the session to leave that chamber.
Representative Justin Alferman (R-Hermann) is sponsoring House Bill 1303 which is based on the gift ban proposal passed out of the House in 2017. That bill, HB 60, was the first sent out of the House in 2017 but was never voted on in the Missouri Senate.
On Monday two House Committees held hearings on, and voted to pass, HB 1303. It is expected to be debated Wednesday by the full chamber and could be sent to the Senate on Thursday, in keeping with House Speaker Todd Richardson’s (R-Poplar Bluff) statement on the opening day of the session that he expected that bill to be voted out this week.
House Democrats questioned several provisions in the legislation including one that aims to restrict the cost of gifts that would still be allowed under the legislation – things like plaques and awards.
St. Louis Democrat Tracy McCreery was concerned that the language of the bill would lead to fewer items falling under mandatory reporting by lobbyists, instead being included in legislators’ personal financial disclosures. She said those disclosures by legislators are less accessible by the public.
“Honestly, Representative, in dealing with this type of ethics reform it’s always going to be whack-a-mole,” Alferman told McCreery. “Anyone who is decisively trying to circumvent ethics laws is already an unethical person and it’s really hard to be able to think about every which way those type of individuals are going to circumvent the law. I’m trying to capture the 98-percent of problems that will be alleviated with this bill.”
Amendments offered by McCreery and other Democrats were voted down along party lines, but the bill was passed out of the Committee on General Laws 12-0. One Democrat said that even without the changes they wanted to see, the bill would still be an improvement over current law.
HB 1303 would still allow lobbyists to make expenditures to the entire General Assembly – things like a dinner to which every member of the House and Senate are invited. Members would have to have at least 72-hours’ notice before such an event, and it must be held in-state, so that all lawmakers would have the opportunity to attend.
“I just don’t want us to get into a ‘gotcha’ moment for going to something like a Missouri Chamber dinner or something of that nature that we’ve all been invited to. I don’t think anyone’s going to say that there’s an influence being levied at those large events. You don’t have the one-on-one interaction like you do if a lobbyist takes you out for a dinner where 100-percent of their focus is on you,” said Alferman.
Last year’s legislation, HB 60, was passed out of the House 149-5. Alferman expects similarly strong, bipartisan support for HB 1303.