It appears that Republican leaders in the Missouri House and Senate are putting their money where their mouths are when it comes to ethics changes.
During his opening speech, House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said he'll refer all ethics bills to committee on Thursday, a move that often takes place days, weeks, and sometimes months after the start of a legislative session.
"I’m asking that committee to work with haste to send us a set of substantive, meaningful, single-subject ethics bills so that they may be the very first matter that this General Assembly tackles," Richardson said. "In doing so, we will improve the environment here in Jefferson City, and we will begin the process of restoring the public's confidence in this institution."
So far, there are 18 ethics bills being sent to the House committee on government oversight and accountability.
They include banning all lobbyist gifts, creating cooling off periods before former lawmakers can become lobbyists, and banning legislators and statewide elected officials from serving as paid political consultants.
At least one House bill would restore campaign contribution limits; it's sponsored by Rep. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City.
The Missouri Senate is also moving on ethics, although it's only referring one bill to committee Thursday: SB 643, which is sponsored by Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis.
The Missouri Capitol's image took a hit last year when two lawmakers resigned from office over inappropriate treatment of interns.
Democrats laid out their goals for 2016 after the House adjourned for the day. Minority Floor Leader Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis, said they include working toward complying with the federal Real ID Act.
"In 120 days, we may have a very serious issue on our hands when Missourians are not allowed to travel (by air) because those IDs are no longer valid," Hummel said. "Will we have to reissue driver's licenses to every resident in Missouri before they are allowed to travel? I can't answer that."
Missouri passed a law in 2009 forbidding state agencies from complying with the Real ID Act, citing concerns that it would violate citizens' privacy rights.
House and Senate Democrats also want to see early action on flood relief and ethics changes that include restoring campaign contribution limits.
Transportation is also being touted as a top priority.
Advocates, including new MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna, say raising the state's fuel tax would provide much-needed revenue for roads and bridges. But there is significant opposition among GOP lawmakers to raising any sort of tax.
"We have to make funding a priority, and I think there are some things we can do within existing revenue streams to make that possible," said Speaker Richardson. "That's where the House is going to start its efforts."
Democrats, including Gov. Jay Nixon, accuse GOP leaders of wanting to fund transportation projects with the same pool of money used for K-12 schools and Medicaid.
Four bills have been filed so far that would raise Missouri’s fuel tax, two of which would also require voter approval:
- HB 1381 would increase motor fuel taxes by 2 cents a gallon
- HB 1581 would increase diesel fuel tax by 8 cents a gallon and all other motor fuels by 7 cents a gallon; would also require majority approval from Missouri voters
- SB 623 would raise diesel fuel tax by 3.5 cents a gallon and other motor fuel taxes by 1.5 cents a gallon, effective Oct. 1
- SJR 18 would amend the Missouri Constitution by raising diesel fuel tax by 3.5 cents a gallon and other motor fuel taxes by 1.5 cents a gallon; would also return supplementary state highways to county control
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