JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri House has made good on the promise to pass an ethics reform bill in the 2017 legislative session.
Fresh off of a long weekend, Missouri’s House of Representatives returned to session late Tuesday afternoon to overwhelmingly pass a measure seeking to put limits on lobbyist gifts.
The bill, HB 60, passed the House with little opposition and a final vote tally of 149-5.
The House has put ethics reform on the fast track this session, as Speaker Todd Richardson had promised that an ethics reform bill would be the first one to pass through the House at the beginning of the session.
“I was just as surprised as everyone else when Speaker Richardson said it would be the first bill,” Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, said. “That weekend I went home, and he referred it the next day.
Alferman says that’s when he knew the Speaker wasn’t kidding about getting it done and doing it quickly.
The proposed bill would ban gifts to individual elected officials, with a few exceptions.
Under the proposal, all lobbyists would only be able to provide paid dinners to the entire General Assembly, providing they give a 72-hour notice – and the meal is in Missouri.
“The word ‘gift’ has been extrapolated, if you will, to include a lot of things that I don’t think anyone would consider a gift today,” Alferman said. “The things banned under this bill are sporting events tickets, lobster dinners – we’re talking about those tangible items that are for a personal, consumable nature.”
The bill also prohibits elected officials from accepting gifts, with special circumstances being given for flowers and awards.
“A lobbyist is only making that expenditure on behalf of their client,” Alferman said. “They’re not giving that to you out of the kindness of their heart. They’re giving that out to get face-time with a legislator.”
He says that he wants people to understand that the legislation is only there to limit legislators’ ability to take free things.
“We’re not trying to limit the ability of member-driven organizations to come to Jefferson City and advocate in their position,” Alferman said. “It has always been about relieving the undue influence of lobbyists over legislators.”
Ethics reform has long been a priority for Gov. Eric Greitens, supporting measures for reform and also placing a ban on lobbyist gifts in his own office.
“I think it sends a huge message to the Missouri Senate, and the governor that campaigned on it,” Alferman said.
The bill now heads to the Missouri Senate, where Alferman says Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, will handle the legislation in that chamber. Alferman says that he expects changes, but welcomes others’ input.
“As long as we’re moving forward, and not playing games, I’m open and willing to discuss any type of changes to the bill,” he said. “I want to see something done. I want to see us pass the first lobbyist gift restriction that Missouri has ever seen.”
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.