Missouri Senators were adamant Wednesday that they were not going to pass a ban on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers.
A compromise that would ban freebies except for lobbyist-funded meals — capped at $40 a day, per lobbyist — got mired in amendments.
But even though the 2016 legislative session ends Friday at 6 p.m., the Missouri House isn’t ready to give up the fight.
Republicans in that chamber plan to attach a lobbyist gift ban as an amendment to numerous Senate bills in an effort to force the chamber to deal with the issue.
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“You may remember the 27th of January,” said Rep. Justin Alferman, a Gasconade County Republican sponsoring the lobbyist gift ban. “It was a pretty good day. We passed [a gift ban] and sent it to the Senate, where they promptly took it up and shelved it for the next three months.”
Alferman said the House will “make sure the Senate has plenty of opportunities to take a look at this fine piece of legislation before the session ends.”
A lobbyist gift ban was a key piece of the House’s ethics reform agenda.
House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Poplar Bluff Republican, vowed to make ethics reform his top priority this session after a series of scandals last year forced the resignation of two lawmakers and caused the House to reevaluate its intern and sexual harassment policies.
It’s unclear whether the House’s tactic will do any good. During debate Wednesday in the Senate, even the staunchest supporters of a gift ban conceded that the idea was dead.
Sen. Scott Sifton, a St. Louis County Democrat, noted that the bill would allow three lobbyists to buy every meal in a day for a lawmaker at $40 a piece.
“Taxpayers already give us $103 a day,” said Sen. Scott Sifton, a St. Louis County Democrat, referring to the per diam lawmakers receive for food and lodging. “I want a comprehensive gift ban, but I understand that’s not going to happen.”
Sen. Dave Schatz, a Franklin County Republican who has been the most outspoken critic of a lobbyist gift ban, said a $40 cap on meals per lobbyist, per day was progress. The bill would still ban other gifts, such as concert tickets and travel expenses.
“Forty dollars is a reasonable approach,” Schatz said, to which Sifton responded “Zero dollars is a reasonable approach. Forty dollars is better than infinity.”
Yet even the $40 per meal lobbyist gift bill ended up being set aside Wednesday after lawmakers repeatedly tried to attach amendments pertaining to campaign contribution limits and donor disclosure requirements for political nonprofits.
“Gift bans mean nothing if you can still take a $1 million check from a donor,” said Sen. Jason Holsman, a Kansas City Democrat.
Both amendments were ruled out of order by the Senate president, who said they went beyond the scope of the lobbyist gift bill. But a third, sponsored by Republican Sen. Ryan Silvey of Kansas City, would mandate nonprofit groups that engage in political activity to register a lobbyist with the Missouri Ethics Commission and disclose spending.
Silvey said it was important to get his amendment on the legislation, since lawmakers may not debate ethics reform again for years.
“We may not get another chance next year,” he said.
With Silvey’s amendment still awaiting a vote, the Senate ended debate and sat the bill aside.