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Government, Politics & Issues

State Senate panel OKs Shields' legislative ethics bill

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 2, 2010 - The legislative ethics bill sponsored by state Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields advanced Tuesday when it won the approval of the Senate Rules, Joint Rules, Resolutions and Ethics Committee.

Although changed, the bill still contains key components sought by Shields.

The provisions include:

--Creating the Office of Independent Investigation within the Ethics Commission;

-- Requiring incumbents to report all donations larger than $250 received during the legislative session (January through May) within 48 hours;

-- Requiring legislative staff to annually file income statements disclosing supplemental income that totals $5,000 or more, including the source and reasons for the additional pay.

-- Barring incumbent legislators from working as political consultants.

Several of the proposals -- notably the latter -- appear aimed at preventing any reoccurrence of the activities conducted by then-House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, who worked as a political consultant while in office. A federal probe currently underway also appears to be targeting some of Jetton's other activities while in office, including his receipt of large donations from contributors who also were lobbying for or against certain bills before the state House.

Under existing campaign-reporting rules, some of Jetton's influential donors weren't known until months after the session was over.

According to Shields, the new independent-investigator post would be charged with probing possible ethics violations and could file ethics complaints. Now, it's up to the public or politicians to file complaints with the Ethics Commission.

“By creating this office, we would bring a new level of accountability to Missouri,” Shields said in a statement. “Currently, it is up to citizens to file complaints, but some form of this would mean that the ethics commission would finally have some flexibility and teeth to investigate things when they seem wrong, not just when a complaint is filed.”

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