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Missouri House passes first group of ethics bills

Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 5:49 p.m. Jan. 14 - In Missouri, it usually takes a few weeks or even a month for the first bills to be completely passed out of one chamber and sent to the other, but not this year.

The Missouri House fast-tracked four ethics bills and on Thursday passed them on to the Senate, during the first full week of the legislative session.

House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, touted the accomplishment and told reporters that more ethics bills will be moving forward.

"Lobbyists gifts are probably going to be the biggest meat of that (group)," he said.  "I'm hopeful that those bills will move out of committee, and hopefully we'll have them to the floor very soon."

House Bills 1979, 1452, 1983, and 1575 passed Thursday with overwhelming majorities, with several Democrats joining Republicans in voting for them.  However, the minority party continued to criticize them as not going far enough.

"There is one glaring omission ... which Missouri voters have been calling for repeatedly, the last (time) in 1994," said Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights, "when 74 percent of voters went to the poll and said that they do want campaign finance limits ... that is the glaring omission from all of these ethics bills today."

After Thursday's votes, the four House ethics bills were "first-read" by the Missouri Senate, meaning that their titles have officially been read into the Senate's journal.  Once they're "second-read," they can be assigned to a Senate committee for hearings, and if passed, debated on the Senate floor.

Original story - The Missouri House has given first-round approval to four ethics bills, just over a week after the start of the new legislative session.

And if all goes according to plan, Republican leaders will hold floor votes on the four bills Thursday, making them the first House bills of the 2016 session to be sent to the Missouri Senate.

The one that got the most attention Wednesday was HB 1979, which would require a one-year cooling off period before former lawmakers and statewide elected officials could become lobbyists.

"This is not a perfect bill, this is not a silver bullet," said sponsor Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, "but what it is is a step in the right direction to tell our constituents that we have heard their voices, we have heard their concerns, and we will do everything within our power, this year with this bill and others that we will see on this floor, to remove the distractions, to remove the barriers to good governance."

Democrats tried but failed to add an amendment that would have increased the cooling off period to three years. It would have taken effect immediately for everyone currently serving in the legislature. As the bill is now written, it would not affect those elected to office before 2016.

"This process has been frozen," said Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia. "People are tired of politicians proposing changes that don't apply to themselves;  this should apply to us."

Republican Jay Barnes of Jefferson City fired back:  "It does, in fact, include us.  There are 25 seniors (who can't be re-elected due to term limits); those are the ones excluded. Eighty-five percent of the people in this body are covered by this bill."

The other bills perfected Wednesday are:

HB 1452 -- would require twice-yearly filings of financial disclosure reports

HB 1983 -- would bar lawmakers and statewide elected officials from working as paid political consultants

HB 1575 -- would require disclosure of third-party payments of lawmakers' lodging and travel expenses within 30 days

Democrat, including Rep. Jon Carpenter of Gladstone, also criticized Republicans for not allowing them to add amendments to include campaign contribution limits.

"This is our first day of working on legislation as a body, Mr. Speaker, and when tactics are already being used on the first day to prevent good amendments from having a good discussion on this floor, I think it's a real shame," Carpenter said. "I think it sets us off on the wrong foot."

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

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