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Uncertain future for efforts to ban lobbyist gifts in Missouri

Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio
The last three years in a row, the Missouri House has passed bills to ban most gifts from lobbyists. The Senate let those bills die, but passed its own proposed ban this year—that the House then let die.";

Updated June 29  - It’s unclear if Missouri lawmakers will try next year to ban gifts from lobbyists, due in part to changing leadership in the House and Senate.

The two lawmakers who backed this year’s bill to ban most gifts from lobbyists have left the Legislature. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, who sponsored the bill in the House, is now Gov. Mike Parson’s legislative director, and the senate backer, Mike Kehoe, is now lieutenant governor.

Kehoe said the bill’s failure in the Senate has more to do with concerns over how gifts would be defined and who would be responsible for reporting them.

“That’s what a lot of these guys get worried about, is, 'How does the reporting happen? Are they supposed to report it, or are they not supposed to report it? Or, [does] the lobbyist principal report it?’” he said. “So having something that’s clear — that’s easy to understand — is likely going to be the way.”

Current law allows unlimited gifts, but they must be reported to the Missouri Ethics Commission.

Alferman’s bill was amended to limit gifts to $40 a day, but it still died in the Senate. The upper chamber instead passed a proposed constitutional amendment to limit gifts to $5 a day while easing restrictions on term limits: instead of eight years in the House and eight years in the Senate, lawmakers would have been allowed to serve 16 years all in one chamber or split between the two.

That measure, sponsored by Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, passed the Senate, then died in the House on the final day of the regular session.

Rep. Jason Chipman, R-Steelville, who co-sponsored Alferman’s bill, blames its failure on a system of quid pro quo in the legislature.

“That’s how politics is, unfortunately — some senators will take advantage of that and say, ‘Well, I’m going to hold this up unless you get such and such a bill of mine passed,’” Chipman said. “I think that, probably more than anything, is what’s been holding it up so far.”

A lobbyist gift ban has been a high priority for House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, who got the proposal through his chamber the past three Januarys in a row only to see it stall and die in the Senate each time.

Richardson leaves office at the end of the year due to term limits. His presumed successor, Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, voted in favor of the bill the past two years in a row, but it’s unknown if he plans to push for another January vote once he takes over for Richardson.

Meanwhile, a citizens’ initiative containing several ethics-related provisions could be added to the November ballot, pending certification of signatures turned in to the Secretary of State’s office last month. The proposal by the group Clean Missouri includes limiting lobbyists gifts to $5 in value and extending the wait time from six months to two years before former elected officials can work as lobbyists.

It would also change the redistricting process in Missouri, which Alferman said is the ballot initiative’s real purpose. He called it a “scam” in an earlier interview with St. Louis Public Radio.

“It's an absolute smokescreen, and this clearly, in my opinion, will be thrown out on a constitutional issue,” he said. “You can’t throw redistricting in with a lobbyist gift ban.”

But supporters say there is “bipartisan disgust” with what’s become normal in Jefferson City, which includes gifts from lobbyists.

Follow Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.

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