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.

Gift ban proposal re-filed for 2017; sponsor expects better chance of passage under Governor-Elect Greitens

The sponsor of a key ethics reform proposal that the House passed in 2016 believes it has a stronger chance of becoming law in 2017.

Representative Justin Alferman (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Justin Alferman (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Hermann Republican Justin Alferman filed in 2016 legislation that would ban gifts from lobbyists to state legislators.  It passed the Missouri House but did not reach the governor.

Alferman has filed that legislation for the 2017 session and said he expects it to have more vigorous support from the administration of Governor-Elect Eric Greitens.

“Governor [Jay] Nixon’s office didn’t coordinate with myself, didn’t coordinate with [House Speaker Todd Richardson] on any of the ethics bills that he took credit for,” said Alferman.  “Governor-Elect Greitens has already called me and I’ve already been in talks with his staff in order to craft a better bill.”

Alferman said the incoming governor’s staff is pleased with the position the House took last year of an all-out ban on gifts, rather than setting a limit.

“The House has proven our position is going to be zero.  We can’t even start negotiating on what the final bill’s going to look like until we get it back from the Senate,” said Alferman.  “Between infinity and zero … there’s a lot of wiggle room.”

The 2016 bill stalled in the Senate where, Alferman said, some senators worked to defeat it, but he says some among them are no longer in office.

“Having the executive branch that is going to be a major driver in this is going to be extremely helpful in getting this done this year,” said Alferman.  “[Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard and Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe] have been extremely helpful in at least giving it floor time last year and getting it to the point that it did.”

The legislature passed and Governor Nixon signed into law three ethics reforms in 2016 – bills that bar elected officials from hiring one another as paid political consultants; bar statewide elected officials, members of the General Assembly, or appointees subject to Senate confirmation from registering as lobbyists until six months after the end of their terms; and limit how long campaign funds can be invested and how they can be used.

Alferman said between those and policies enacted by House leadership to govern how House members and staff behave both in and out of the Capitol, and similar policies in the Senate, the public perception of the legislature should be better than it was four years ago.

“What the speaker has done and set in place has hopefully alleviated any concerns that there are of either sexual harassment or inappropriate workplace dealings that we potentially had in the past.” said Alferman. 

Today is the first day legislators can file measures to be considered in the 2017 legislative session.

Update:  The 2017 bill is HB 60.