Elected officials in Missouri would no longer be allowed to directly accept gifts from lobbyists under a bill that received initial approval Tuesday in the Missouri House.
The House is expected to send the bill to the Senate later this week.
There are currently no limits on lobbyist gifts to elected officials, and lawmakers take around $900,000 a year in free meals, booze, trips, event tickets and other gifts.
Under the House proposal, all those freebies would be banned. The only allowable lobbyist-funded gifts would be events where every member of the General Assembly and all statewide elected officials are invited in writing at least 72 hours in advance.
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The bill also ends the practice of lobbyists giving gifts to groups such as legislative committees or caucuses, a practice that many argue violates the spirit of the state disclosure requirements by making it difficult, and in some cases impossible, to tell who is getting gifts from whom.
“This is a dramatic change in the way we do things in Jefferson City,” said Rep. Justin Alferman, a Hermann Republican. “It’s great public policy, and it’s something Missourians are calling for loudly.”
The bill originally focused on just the General Assembly and other state officials. During debate it was amended to also include local elected officials, such as members of a school board or city council.
“This is the first time I’ve been here that we’ve had true reform,” said Rep. Kevin Engler, a southeast Missouri Republican.
The gift ban is one of a host of ethics reform measures moving through the General Assembly this year in response to a series of legislative scandals last summer that drove House Speaker John Diehl and Sen. Paul LeVota out of office.
Democrats on Tuesday spoke in support of restrictions on lobbyist gifts but argued that lawmakers should also reinstitute campaign contribution limits.
Missouri is currently the only state with no campaign contribution limits, no limits on lobbyist gifts and no waiting period before lawmakers can become lobbyists after leaving office.
The House has signed off on gift restrictions and a cooling off period for lawmakers. But legislative leaders have said contribution limits stand little chance this year.
“More important than a $10 free meal is a $500,000 campaign check,” said Rep. Jon Carpenter, a Gladstone Democrat. “Both should be curtailed, but common sense would lead anyone to conclude that a $500,000 check has a much more corruptive influence.”
Contribution limits were approved by voters in a statewide referendum in 1994. Republicans took over control of the legislature in 2003 and voted to repeal contribution limits in 2008.
Three years earlier, the Senate voted to eliminate a longstanding rule in that chamber prohibiting senators from accepting gifts worth more than $50 from a single lobbyist and more than $100 in gifts in a given year.