Pictured above: Rep. Caleb Rowden (left) and Rep. Justin Alferman listen to lengthy debate on HB 2166 in the Senate.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A bill that will ban gifts from lobbyists will have a tough road ahead if legislative leaders want it to become law before the end of session.
Rep. Justin Alferman’s HB 2166 was debated on the Senate floor today, and an amendment tacked on by Sen. Dave Schatz could find it lost in the legislative process as time ticks away on the 2016 legislative session. Other senators offered amendments and stalled at length, forcing the Senate handler, Sen. Bob Onder, to lay the bill on the informal calendar.
Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, may have killed the bill when he attempted to tack on an amendment that would set limits on campaign contributions. He argued that with checks being written in excess of $1 million for certain campaigns, a Senate argument over relatively small gifts from lobbyists did not address the root of the issue.
“The grand experiment is not working,” Pearce said.
Pearce called his decision to enact unlimited campaign contributions the “worst vote” he ever made. He offered another amendment that would make donations from 501(c)(4) companies to political campaigns more transparent.
Although both of Pearce’s amendments were ruled out of order by President Pro Tem Ron Richard for being outside the scope of the bill, senators continued to mull the ramifications of unlimited campaign spending.
However, Pearce’s failures set off an avalanche of activity on the bill.
Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, offered an amendment of his own that would mandate 501(c)(4)s that participate in political spending to register a lobbyist with the Missouri Ethics Commission. It gave him, Sen. Rob Schaaf, and Sen. Mike Parson a chance to stall debate on the floor.
Silvey noted that he wanted to make sure the bill, which represents the final significant piece of ethics reform, truly betters the situation in Jefferson City that many see as corrupt.
“If we pass something, there won’t be an impetus to come back and pass something that actually does something.”
The bill was laid on the informal calendar shortly thereafter.
Those amendments were not the only attempted changes to the legislation. Schatz’ amendment would make an exception in the prohibition on gifts for meals under $40. The senator said that would allow legislators to attend certain events and partake in dinners held by interest organizations. Schatz called the exception “reasonable,” but other senators were not convinced.
Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, supported the amendment, but said that it defeated the purpose of the bill to an extent.
“What we’re doing here is we’re turning the gift ban bill into not a gift ban bill, but…it’s an incremental improvement over what we have now,” he said.
Others were more critical. Sen. Scott Sifton, D-St. Louis, questioned why legislators needed meals paid for by lobbyists when taxpayers already provided legislators with a $103 per diem for food and lodging. Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, worried that the amendment would send the wrong perception by changing a bill that allowed “no lobbyist gifts to lobbyist gifts of some amount.”
Schatz dismissed those concerns, arguing that his amendment was better than the status quo.
“We’re going from unlimited reporting to 40 bucks, they ought to be happy we’ve done something,” he said.
Schatz’ amendment was approved.
With the window closing, it is unclear whether or not the bill will come up for debate again before an expected Democratic filibuster on the paycheck protection bill that is expected to shutdown the Senate for the rest of the week.