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Government, Politics & Issues

House committee passes 4 ethics bills; full Missouri House could vote by Thursday

The Missouri House committee on government oversight and accountability passed four ethics bills on Monday and could be debated on the House floor as early as Wednesday. 1/11/16
Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri House Republicans are keeping their foot on the gas as they steer the first group of ethics bills through their chamber.

Four ethics bills were heard by a House committee, then easily passed after little more than an hour's worth of discussions.

The bills:

  • HB 1452 -- would  require twice-yearly filings of financial disclosure reports -- passed 9-0
  • HB 1983 -- would bar lawmakers and statewide elected officials from working as paid political consultants --passed 8-0
  • HB 1575 -- would require disclosure of 3rd-party payments of lawmakers' lodging and travel expenses within 30 days -- passed 8-0
  • HB 1979 -- would create a one-year waiting period before former lawmakers and statewide elected officials can become lobbyists -- passed 7-1

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, chairs the House committee on government oversight and accountability and conducted the hearings.
"Today is the very first day on which committees can hear bills," Barnes told reporters after the votes.  "On the very first day on which committees can hear bills, we passed four substantive ethics bills out of a House committee."

The four ethics bills have been placed on the House calendar, meaning they can be brought up for floor debate as early as Wednesday.

"On the very first day we can vote on the bills, I believe we will perfect four substantive ethics bills, and then on the next day, we will third-read them and send them to the Senate," Barnes said, "all in the quickest amount of time we possibly could do so."

Rep. Gina Mitten, D-Richmond Heights, voted for all four bills, but she also called them "the tiniest of possible steps, incomplete, and is being sold as a bill of goods."

The lone "no" vote on HB 1979 was cast by Rep. Penny Hubbard, D-St. Louis.

Mitten was especially critical of the House GOP's proposal for shutting the so-called "revolving door" in which former lawmakers can immediately become lobbyists after leaving office.

"There needs to be some absolutely punitive measures for someone that resigns their office early in order to become a lobbyist," Mitten said, taking a swipe at former Senate President Pro-tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles.  "As far as I'm concerned, that is unconscionable to your constituents to leave them unrepresented for months, and in some cases years, in order for you to go make a living."

Dempsey now works for a lobbying firm in Clayton, although he currently lobbies in states outside Missouri.

She also criticized the GOP-controlled committee for not hearing any proposals to restore campaign contribution limits.

"What we are not talking about is million-dollar contributions to candidates from single donors," Mitten said.

Mitten says she may offer campaign contribution limits as an amendment when the four ethics bills are taken up for debate.

Barnes and other Republicans remain opposed to restoring campaign contribution limits, saying it would lead to candidates from both parties funneling donations through multiple committees.

"All they would do is wash the money through committees," Barnes told reporters.  "That is what happened in the past."

Ethics pitches on the campaign trail

At least two of Missouri's Republican candidates for governor, former House Speaker Catherine Hanaway and author/former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens, renewed their own calls Monday for more ethics restrictions on lawmakers.

Hanaway offered her general support for legislative action:

"The shenanigans in Jefferson City have gone on too long. I commend the General Assembly for taking up ethics reform at the beginning of this year's legislative session," she said. "I don't think any of the bills presented are perfect, but now is not the time for the perfect to be the enemy of the good. It is good that the General Assembly is moving and I urge them to put ethics reform on the governor's desk swiftly."

Greitens laid out a list of proposals, many of which already are being considered by legislators.

He called for eight-year term limits on all statewide officials – now such limits only apply to the governor and state treasurer – and a ban on all lobbyists gifts.

Greitens also proposed that legislators would have to stay out of office as long as they had been in, before they could be come lobbyists. A lawmaker in the General Assembly for 16 years, for example, would have to stay out 16 years before they could lobby.

He also proposed a ban on campaign contributions to legislators when the General Assembly is in session.  An earlier such ban was tossed out by the courts several years ago.

Follow Marshall Griffin and Jo Mannies on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport  @jmannies

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