JEFFERSON CITY — Tighter ethics restrictions and disclosure requirements would be imposed on public officials under a package of four bills passed by the Missouri House Thursday.
The measures would require a “cooling-off” period before a Missouri elected official could become a lobbyist, restrict working as paid political consultants while in office, shorten the deadline for reporting when someone paid for out-of-state travel and require public officials to file financial statements twice per year instead of annually.
The ethics package was made a top priority by legislative leaders in the aftermath of resignations of two lawmakers after allegations of inappropriate conduct involving female college interns.
The measures cleared the House after just six legislative days.
Democrats, however, argued the measures were not strong enough.
One complaint was that the requirement for a delay before becoming a lobbyist would not apply to legislators in their current term in office, only for those elected or re-elected in November.
“This is a disappointingly small step. People are tired of politicians proposing changes that don’t apply to themselves. This should apply to us,” said Rep. Steve Webber, D-Columbia, during the initial House debate on the proposals.
Democrats also argued that the restriction on working as campaign consultants should apply to legislative staff as well as legislators.
Republicans countered that some of the broader provisions Democrats sought would trigger court challenges and raise the possibility of a repeat of legislative gridlock that has derailed ethics issues for the past several years.
“Our goal is not to have a conversation about ethics reform; our goal is to actually get something done,” said House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Popular Bluff. “I’m tired of us talking about these things and never getting them done.”
Richardson argued that keeping the bills narrowly defined made passage more likely.
The cooling-off period would prohibit legislators and statewide elected officials from registering as lobbyists until they had been out of office for one year after the term in which the person had been elected had expired.
The cooling-off period also would apply to officials appointed by the governor to positions that require Senate confirmation.
In addition, a legislator would be prohibited from soliciting a lobbyist for a paid position that would begin after the lawmaker left office.
However, the cooling-off requirement would not apply for during the current term of a legislator, only after re-election.
The restriction on working as a paid political consultant would cover both legislators and statewide elected officials, but not their staffers. The chair of the committee that approved the bill said that including staffers might cause the entire bill to be struck down by the courts.
The out-of-state travel reporting bill would impose a 30-day deadline for a public official to report when a third party had covered out-of-state travel or lodging expenses.
A number of other ethics measures are awaiting committee review. One would impose a total ban on accepting anything of value from lobbyists.
Democrats, including Gov. Jay Nixon, have called for reinstating limits on how much any one person or organization can contribute to a candidate’s campaign. But that proposal has met with stiff resistance by Republicans.
Missouri voters approved limits on campaign contributions in 1994. Those limits were struck down by the courts, placing into effect higher limits lawmakers had approved that same year. In 2006, lawmakers voted to remove contribution limits altogether.