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Diehl Bans Missouri House Committees From Meeting In Restaurants, Country Clubs

Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, has banned all committee hearings and legislative meetings held at country clubs and restaurants, effective immediately.

"The (committee) chairmen (who scheduled the meetings) have followed all the rules and followed a practice and procedure that has been followed up here for decades," Diehl told reporters Wednesday.  "But looking at the situation in total, (with) every new leadership group there comes a new analysis of what we do and what we don't do, and this leadership team has decided that we're going to hold committee meetings inside the (State Capitol)."

Diehl also told a group of reporters on Monday that he was considering the change, but he stopped short at the time of committing to it.

"It's always been done that way; I'm not saying it's right or it's wrong," Diehl said. "It's funny once again how some of the groups are more worried about what someone eats or (about having) a glass of iced tea than they are about the real substance of the meeting."

But that changed after complaints about a committee meeting held Tuesday night at the Jefferson City Country Club. House Minority Floor Leader Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, applauded Diehl's decision but said it doesn't go far enough.

"I wish (Diehl) would have done it a long time ago, before the public trust was further eroded by doing things that (are) quite frankly an embarrassment to this body (and) to the political process," Hummel said.

Crystal Brinkley, executive director of the Missouri Democratic Party, released a statement strongly criticizing Diehl for not banning the meetings sooner:

"Missouri has the absolute worst ethics laws in the country, and politicians like Speaker John Diehl and Rep. Bart Korman just don't get it.  The people of Missouri elect leaders to represent and defend them in Jefferson City, not to take meal orders and extravagant gifts from the very interests they are supposed to be regulating. It shouldn't take statewide media attention and public outcry to end such a plainly ludicrous practice."

Korman, R-High Hill, chairs the House Telecommunications committee, which met Tuesday night at the Jefferson City Country Club.

The House committee on utility infrastructure was also scheduled to meet tonight at 7 p.m. at the same country club, with dinner paid for by lobbyists.  That meeting is now scheduled to be held at the state Capitol, and according to the Associated Press dinner will not be provided.

Diehl's rule change only affects the Missouri House.  A spokesperson for Senate President Pro-tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said no rule bars Senate committees from meeting in restaurants or country clubs. But he also said, "It's not something the Senate practices."

Meanwhile, state Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, D-Kansas City, has filed a bill to make it illegal for a standing legislative committee to meet anywhere other than the state Capitol:

"Folks know that to get to their lawmaker, they come to our offices, and when there's an issue in front of a committee, they come to the committee," LaFaver said.  "They need that assurance that when they come to the people's building, that's the business that's going to get done, and they don't have to take a bus or (something) else to go off to a country club to watch people eat overpriced and overcooked sea bass."

LaFaver says his bill would not include interim committees that hold meetings around the state when the legislature is not in session. However, it would not ban lobbyists from catering meals at committee meetings held inside the State Capitol, which is also a common practice.

"The idea is that this is the people's building," LaFaver said. "People can come (to the state Capitol) and everything is out in the open...when you hide at restaurants and you hide at country clubs, that objective is not met."

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.