Missouri lawmakers can keep accepting free meals, drinks and event tickets after the House killed a proposed Constitutional amendment in the final moments of the 2018 legislative session.
Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, had sought to ban lobbyist gifts and alter the state's legislative term limits through a proposed amendment Missourians would have voted on this fall.
The House brought up the proposal in the last hour of the state's legislative session Friday evening only to move on moments later after some House members tried to attach amendments and sink the proposal. When the session ended at 6 p.m., the proposal died.
"After losing both attempts to kill the bill, the majority floor leader Rob Vescovo unilaterally denied the people of Missouri the opportunity to ban lobbyist gifts and improve the Missouri General Assembly," Holsman said in a statement.
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Vescovo, R-Jefferson County, called Holsman’s accusation “ridiculous.”
The Constitution mandates the session end at 6 p.m., he said, and there was only 10 minutes left to get to another bill before adjournment. It didn't look like the bill was going to succeed, so Vescovo said he had to pull the plug.
“We were running out of time,” he said. “We had 15 people wanting to speak, not only on the amendments, but on the underlying bill.”
Rep. Justin Alferman, a Gasconade County Republican who has sponsored a lobbyist gift ban in the House for the last four years, said the Senate is the only reason ethics reform legislation didn’t pass.
The House approved a gift ban in January, he noted, and gave the Senate the next four months to take action.
The bill never got any traction at all.
“They had every opportunity,” he said. “They’ve had every opportunity for years to get this done.”
He accused the Senate of only passing Holsman’s bill because it was attached to a “very unpopular provision regarding term limits” and was thus doomed in the House.
“To say the floor leader was the one responsible for a gift ban dying," Alferman said, "there are 34 members of the Missouri Senate who need to take a look in the mirror."
Holsman's proposal would have placed an outright ban on gifts from lobbyists to legislators and their staff or family members. It also would have altered the state's term limit policy to allow lawmakers to spend a total 16 years in the General Assembly in any chamber. Currently, lawmakers can spend a maximum eight years in each chamber.
Rep. Robert Ross, R-Yukon, attempted to amend the proposal on the House floor to include another Constitutional amendment requiring that only citizens be counted in legislative redistricting. That amendment also died at the 6 p.m. deadline.
Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-St. Louis, took issue with the move because some lawmakers saw the redistricting proposal as an attempt to undermine Clean Missouri, a slate of ethics reforms submitted as a ballot initiative for the fall election.
“This is a serious topic, and at the last minute we’re trying to sneak some language across the finish line and continue to just be disrespectful of these hundreds of thousands of people that sign petitions," McCreery said.