Still reeling from the chaotic end of last session and the resignation of the chamber’s leader, members of the Missouri House on Thursday passed four measures to change loose ethics laws.
The legislation would close the revolving door of lawmakers becoming lobbyists; require candidates, elected officials and others to report their personal finances more often; ban officials from also serving as paid political consultants; and require that lawmakers disclose trips paid for by third parties more quickly.
Republicans asserted the bills are a step forward after years of failed attempts to enact change, but others, mostly Democrats, argued the measures don’t go far enough. Missouri is the only state with the trio of unlimited campaign contributions, unlimited lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and a policy that allows legislators to immediately become lobbyists after leaving office.
The breakneck pace of the measures — the first to pass the House in a session that began eight days earlier — is unusual for the Missouri General Assembly.
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“Our goal is not to have a conversation about ethics reform; our goal is to actually get something done,” GOP House Speaker Todd Richardson said after the bills passed.
Ethics laws are under increased scrutiny this session because of the previous one, which was marked by the resignations of two former lawmakers accused of inappropriate behavior toward interns.
Richardson’s predecessor, John Diehl, stepped down as speaker after admitting to exchanging sexually suggestive texts with an intern. Sen. Paul LeVota, an Independence Democrat, left office months later amid allegations that he sexually harassed interns, which he denied.
The scandals spurred a new House policy that requires annual sexual harassment training for all members and staff and fueled the push for changes to other ethics policies.
Under one bill that passed 141-16, elected statewide officials, lawmakers and gubernatorial appointees who need Senate confirmation would need to wait a year after their term ends before lobbying.
The measure would apply to future lawmakers and elected officials and those running for re-election. There are 25 current lawmakers who would be exempt because they’re term-limited. Legislators who opt not to run for re-election could immediately lobby.
Those exemptions drew criticism from some Democrats, who said it should apply to all who are currently in office. Some called for bans longer than a year.
“This is a very good step forward,” said Rep. John Rizzo, a Kansas City Democrat and the minority whip. “But it should not be the final step in the destination, which is ultimately getting the confidence of the public back.”
The three other ethics-related bills that passed:
▪ Legislation to ban elected officials from also serving as paid political consultants, which passed 136-21. Opponents said staff also should not be allowed to do paid political consulting.
▪ A measure to require candidates, elected officials and others to report their personal finances twice a year instead of once a year, which passed 143-11. Some Democrats have said those reports should also be provided online for greater public access.
▪ A proposal to require lawmakers to disclose trips that are paid for by third parties either 30 days after the travel or 30 days after receipt of payment. It passed 143-16. Assistant Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty said lawmakers should be cautious about adding reporting requirements that could take away from time that could be spent doing other work for constituents.
All four measures now head to the Senate.