JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Speaker Todd Richardson pledged in his opening address to the legislature last week that ethics and lobbying reform would be his top priority after scandals and accusations that lawmakers had become too cozy with lobbyists rocked the 2015 session.
The speaker has upheld his part of the bargain with the passage of four bills on the subject just a little over a week after that pledge, with more expected to come before January ends.
“[I’m] very proud of the body for delivering on the promise that I laid out in the opening day address which was to make substantive, meaningful ethics reform the very first priority of this house,” he said. “We started that process today and I think you saw us move four very substantive bills, and we’re happy to get those moving on.”
The four pieces of legislation dealt with lobbying in different ways, arguably the most notable piece of legislation was written by Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia. HB 1979 would end the “revolving door” practice of legislators retiring from their posts to become lobbyists that has come under scrutiny from the outside.
Democrats generally supported the legislation, though some felt the bill did not do enough.
“I’m glad to know the House is actually going to pass some ethics related legislation, but I’m disappointed because this bill doesn’t go far enough to address the problem it’s trying to fix, and it doesn’t go far enough to restore the public trust,” said Rep. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City. “This shouldn’t be a gateway job to something more lucrative like lobbying.”
Some Republicans conceded that they simply wanted to get things done to get something better that the status quo.
“These bills are nowhere near perfect, but we are having meaningful steps forward in the discussion on ethics reform,” Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, said. Alferman’s bill banning lobbyist gifts will likely make the floor next week.
Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, however, got heated that some Democrats said they would oppose the bill because it wasn’t perfect. He credited the amendment added by Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-St. Louis, which would make it illegal to cut deals while in office to obtain a lobbying job, but disagreed with the central thesis of the legislation. He still voiced his support of the bill.
“This will get something positive,” he said to the minority party. “It will stop that revolving door process and cutting deals.”
But perhaps Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, summed up the Republican response best when discussing his bill barring legislators from being paid political consultants, which also passed despite some Democrats wishing to extend that provision to legislative staff as well.
“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need,” he said, channeling his inner Mick Jagger.
Rowden’s travel expenses disclosure bill also passed as did Rep. Denny Hoskins’ bill altering the personal financial disclosure report filings from an annual time frame to a biannual period.
With the bills headed to the Senate, Richardson did not confirm whether or not the bills would be expedited in that chamber, but said that he and President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, had been in “constant communication” for the past few months on ethics legislation.
“Sen. Richard joined me on the dias as we took up ethics bills,” he said. “He came to express his support for the work we were doing, and I’m very optimistic the Senate’s going act on what we send them.”