House votes to send latest lobbyist gift ban proposal to Senate

The Missouri House has for the third straight year proposed a ban on lobbyist gifts to legislators and other elected and appointed officials.

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

The House voted 134-12 Wednesday to send to the Senate House Bill 1303, sponsored by Hermann Republican Justin Alferman.  The bill would bar lobbyists from giving gifts to government officials – things such as meals or tickets to concerts or sporting events.  It would allow lobbyists to pay for gifts at events in Missouri when all members of the legislature or all statewide officials are invited at least three days before the event.

“We’re trying to alleviate the one-on-one interactions that sometimes have personally consumable items given to individual legislators in the State of Missouri,” said Alferman.  “I think it’s important … that we as legislators tackle these tough issues and show the State of Missouri and its citizens that we are capable of handling complex issues like ethics reform.”

The bill specifies what elected and appointed officials could still receive.  That includes things like entrance fees to events at which they are participating in a ceremony; flowers or plants as expressions of condolence or congratulations; and plaques or awards.  It would also eliminate the requirement that lobbyists report having given such gifts.

Representative Peter Merideth (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Democrats wanted to restore those reporting requirements.  They also proposed that the bill should include penalties for lawmakers who violate it.  Their proposed amendments were rejected last week, though the bill still received broad bipartisan support.

“I do wish that we had included in the bill some provisions of transparency with regard especially to the new exemptions for allowable expenditures that are for individual legislators,” said St. Louis representative Peter Merideth (D)“I also do wish that we had added provisions to make ourselves accountable under this bill … However with that said I still think this is an improvement from current law and so I will be supporting it.”

The vote came a year to the day after the House last voted to send a gift ban proposal to the Senate.  Neither that bill nor the one the House approved in 2016 were approved by that chamber.

Missouri House again fast-tracking ban on lobbyist gifts to legislators

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 (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

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.

Representative Tracy McCreery (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

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.

“What I’m trying to do is make sure by fixing one thing we’re not opening up another opportunity for abuse where all of a sudden things are considered to be awards,” said McCreery.

“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.