House lawmakers continue to lay out a slate of proposed ethics reforms they believe would help restore the public’s trust in Missouri’s elected officials.
Columbia Democrat Kip Kendrick presented to the House Committee on General Laws, House Bill 217, an omnibus bill encompassing a series of measures offered by other members of his caucus. He said each proposed reform is based on promises made by candidates during the recent campaign cycle – promises that he says were endorsed by voters based on which candidates made those promises and won.
“There is the appearance, obviously, of corruption. There’s a lack of trust – I believe that we all see it – a lack of trust that the people have in how the processes unfold here at the State Capitol, at the federal level as well,” said Kendrick. “The bill before you, make a strong argument that it’s an aggressive and comprehensive anti-corruption, reform bill.”
Two key provisions would build on work already done by the House toward ethics reform that House Democrats say they want to take farther than earlier proposals. One aims to ban gifts and monetary donations from lobbyists to elected officials.
Kirkwood Democrat Deb Lavender is carrying the Democrats’ version of a proposed gift ban, House Bill 212. She told lawmakers her bill would be tougher than House Bill 60, passed two weeks ago by the House.
Kirkwood Democrat Deb Lavender is carrying the Democrats’ version of a proposed gift ban, House Bill 212. She told lawmakers under House Bill 60, passed two weeks ago by the House, organizations could exploit a provision that lets them provide meals for legislators at events as long as all members of the General Assembly and all state lawmakers are invited.
“I have been invited to a Bar Association Dinner in Kansas City. I’ve now been invited to one in Jefferson City and I’ve been invited to one in St. Louis. A year ago I was invited to the one in St. Louis,” said Lavender. “So as the entire General Assembly has now been invited to all three events, and perhaps more, here is how the Missouri Bar Association is already working around a bill that has passed on our floor; how they can still take you out and buy a meal and report it to the General Assembly so there’s no individual accountability.”
The other provision proposes extending the prohibition on elected or appointed officials or legislators becoming lobbyists from six months to five years after their term has ended, and would apply that to certain legislative staff. It is also found in House Bill 213, sponsored by Representative Joe Adams (D-University City).
Other provisions in HB 217 propose prohibiting any candidates’ committees from transferring their funds to their candidate’s family members; requiring former candidates to dissolve their candidate committees; and letting the Missouri Ethics Commission prosecute criminal cases and initiate civil cases if the state Attorney General declines to pursue either regarding an alleged ethics violation. Those provisions are found in House Bill 214 (Tracy McCreery), House Bill 215 (Mark Ellebracht), House Bill 216 (Crystal Quade), respectively.
Republicans have their own proposals to further reform Missouri ethics laws. Ballwin Representative Shamed Dogan wants to ban gifts from lobbyists to local government officials.
Dogan said such officials are held to a much lower standard than legislators.
“I was an alderman in my city before being elected to this position, and we had a trash contract that was before our city. I subsequently found out, after we’d passed this trash contract on a no-bid basis, that our City Administrator had been lobbied by that trash company by taking him to game seven of the World Series in 2011,” said Dogan of his proposal, House Bill 229.
Hurst said he wants members of the public to know that they can talk to elected officials about issues that concern them without having to file as a lobbyist, and without fear of being prosecuted for failing to file.
Republican Jean Evans said the bill could raise more issues.
“So what’s to keep someone who’s not registered as a lobbyist, who’s not paid, from, say, giving lavish gifts to a legislator that’s not being reported in order to affect some sort of change in legislation or in order to, say, perhaps influence a decision on procurement whether it’s at the state or local level?” asked Evans.
The committee has not voted on any of those bills.
House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) and other legislative leaders have said ethics reforms would continue to be a priority in the 2017 session.