Early in the Session (in February), the Missouri Senate approved Senate Bill 11 and sent on to the House. SB 11 was the Senate’s version of ethics reform. This past week it was taken up by the Missouri House, and during very lengthy debate, the House added two amendments to SB 11, after which it passed the House with good bipartisan support. In placing these two amendments on SB 11, the House seeks to create an even tougher ethics bill as it returns to the Senate for their consideration. The two provisions added by the House were first, to place a cap of $25 for any lobbyist gift and second, to address the concept of the “revolving door.”
In SB 11, the Senate didn’t place a cap on the amount of money a lobbyist could spend on lawmakers. However, they did require stricter reporting on all gifts made to members of Missouri’s General Assembly. By adding the $25 cap on gifts, the House has aligned the ethics bill with most of our neighboring states that also use the $25 cap. Collectively, Missouri lobbyists will spend approximately $1 million annually on gifts for legislators. Included in these gifts are committee dinners, tickets to various sporting events, some travel expense to out-of-state events, as well as campaign contributions.
The second amendment that the House placed on SB 11 addressed the concept of the revolving door. This is the phrase used when a lawmaker terms out of office, or in some cases just leaves, and immediately becomes a lobbyist. Under the House amendment there will be a one-year cooling-off period placed on all officials leaving office. Included in the Senate’s version is a two-year ban on the lawmaker to lobbyist movement, but it would only apply to members who begin their first term in January 2017, rather than those presently serving. For some legislators, this would push the revolving door back to 2025, but the House believes it should become law immediately.
Along with the two amendments added to SB 11, four other provisions were readily accepted and unchanged by the House. These will remain in the bill: 1) banning of all out-of-state trips being paid for by lobbyists, 2) requiring stricter reporting of any lobbyist expenditures, 3) prohibiting any lawmaker from serving as a paid political consultant within two years of leaving office, 4) requiring all elected officials to obtain mandatory ethics training within 120 days of taking office. Supporters of SB 11, as amended by the House, are saying that this ethics bill represents an important step toward establishing meaningful ethics reform in Missouri. Now, SB 11 will go back to the Senate where they can either accept the two House amendments and send it on to the governor or send it to a conference committee where selected members of both chambers and both political parties can work out the differences.
Obviously missing from this legislation is the placing of limits on campaign contributions and the disclosure of donations by not-for-profit groups. These issues most likely will be taken up in future legislation once the first round of ethics reform is passed. SB 11 is the beginning of what many elected officials believe will lead to the desired reforms.
Most of the Legislature agrees that these ethics reforms are necessary. As members of the General Assembly, we are fairly compensated by Missouri taxpayers, plus we are given an adequate daily per diem to cover living expenses while in Session. Consequently, I support SB 11 as amended by the House.