JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri House made the historic move to expel Rep. Wiley Price from office Wednesday but ultimately failed to adopt the measure. He was, however, censured for his alleged behavior.
The St. Louis Democrat was accused of an “inappropriate relationship” with a House intern by the Ethics Committee, in addition to threatening a staff member early last year. He was also accused of lying to the committee and investigators during the probe.
Price said there were “discrepancies” with the committee report. He said he did lie to an investigator about having the intern’s phone number but was otherwise truthful.
“Obviously I’m frustrated by these proceedings, but I apologize to my friends and my colleagues for even putting us in this position,” Price said from the House floor. “I remind the body that these are still unsubstantiated allegations. I have been forthright, direct, and honest.”
The House voted 140-3 in favor of censuring Price. Reps. Marlon Anderson, Michael Johnson, and Tony Lovasco voted against the measure.
House leadership said in a statement it “the first time in the history of the Missouri House that such a measure has been approved.”
Members on both sides of the aisle voiced their approval of the committee’s findings over the course of the afternoon, noting the difficulty of the situation before the body.
Rep. Jered Taylor handled the amendment calling for a vote on expulsion, saying the road to this motion was not easy.
“In my opinion censure doesn’t go far enough,” Taylor said. “Censure is a slap on the wrist. … The representative has disgraced the honor of this institution.”
The amendment drew criticism from the other side of the aisle; Rep. Mark Ellebrecht decried the call for expulsion and pointed to the intern’s denial of the alleged encounter as a “presumption of promiscuity.”
“It’s easy for us to sit as a jury of 161 and to have in our minds and our hearts this spirit of vengeance — the thought that we are entitled to righteous retribution on a member who might have taken advantage of an intern it is our duty to respect. Each of us must remember that if you open the door to that thought, you’re supporting the thought of an alleged relationship which she denies,” he said.
The House ultimately failed to approve the measure twice before Taylor withdrew it from the floor. Republicans voting against the amendment included Reps. Phil Christofanelli, Mary Elizabeth Coleman, Shamed Dogan, and Danny Busick.
It took more than an hour and a half for the House to convene, with the Republican side of the aisle trickling in slowly before the body was gavelled in. Majority Floor Leader Dean Plocher proposed a resolution limiting the day’s discussion to four hours, which the chamber approved. The body met for just over half of the allotted time.
Rep. J Eggleston, who had chaired the Ethics Committee at the time of the report, noted it had been about 150 years since the House expelled someone from office. He said members of the committee had been mixed about whether to recommend expulsion, but he ultimately supported the move.
The bipartisan Ethics Committee met behind closed doors in December, recommending censure by the 100th and 101st General Assembly, payment of nearly $22,500 for costs related to the investigation, and an inability to hold a leadership position in its report. It also recommended Price be stripped from any committee assignments or supervision over an intern. Legislative employees assigned to Price should be under the direct supervision of the House chief clerk, the report suggested.
The report said Price committed perjury before the Ethics Committee, misled the investigator, obstructed the investigation, and “intimidated and threatened his legislator assistant in retaliation for performing her duties as a mandated reporter.” It also said Price’s conduct “has compromised the ability of the House to provide a respectful, professional work environment.”
The report was approved unanimously by the bipartisan committee late last year.
Price was first elected to the legislature in 2018 to represent HD 84, which encompasses part of St. Louis. He ran unopposed for re-election last year and worked in marketing prior to his election to the House.
This story has been updated. Kaitlyn Schallhorn contributed to this report.