JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Gov. Jay Nixon released an op-ed this week, in which the governor hit on a subject that may make the most headlines in the upcoming legislative session: ethics reform in the capital.
“While there are a great many dedicated public servants in the Missouri Legislature, their efforts are often tarnished by a culture in which some lose their way,” Nixon wrote. “That is why, when legislators return to the capital in January, few issues are more important than restoring the public’s trust.”
Legislators from both sides of the aisle voiced their support for Nixon’s message, including Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, at least in one aspect.
I agree with @GovJayNixon in that we need to ban lobbyist gifts, and I will be pre-filing legislation again this year to do just that.
— Justin Alferman (@Justinalf) October 28, 2015
Alferman, who says he has never taken a gift from a lobbyist in his career, sponsored legislation last year, which would have prohibited a lobbyist from making a single contribution of more than five dollars or $25 annually to any statewide elected official, General Assembly member, or Supreme Court judge. However, it failed to make much headway after it was incorporated into an omnibus ethics reform bill that failed to pass.
“The problem we always have with ethics laws is they try to make it into one omnibus bill is they die under their own weight,” Alferman said, noting that sometimes that failure happened by design. He said he would like to see more concise, plainly-written legislation.
As such, he is currently working to find clear language to find a bill that will succeed in the legislature. Alferman has looked towards other states as well to see what has worked elsewhere.
“I like the approach that Arizona is doing,” he said. “It’s a common sense type approach, They limit it to $10 annually on a lobbyist or principal.” That small amount of money would cover incidental purchases – a soda, a candy bar, etc.
“We don’t want to fine or jail lawmakers for taking a stick of gum,” he continued.
Like many others in Jefferson City, Alferman does not see widespread unethical behavior in the Capitol, that these incidentals can be permitted. He worries about the few legislators that do associate too strongly with lobbyists.
“I do not believe it is a rampant problem,” he said. “I’ve been working in the building since 2008, I don’t think it’s any worse or any better than it is now. There are a select few legislators that give the impression that all we do… is make bad choices.”
With the recent recommendations to change intern policy by Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, and a more critical discussion around the state about the behavior of the legislature, Alferman says he believes the legislature will make progress on ethics reform legislation this year, noting that both the Speaker and President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, hope to pass ethics reform.
“Both of them seem very keen on getting a bill done this year,” Alferman said. “What that final package is going to look like, I have no idea, but I’m more confident this year that we’re going to get something done than I was last year.”