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Missouri House may vote this week on restrictions on lobbyists' gifts

Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri House has moved fast on the latest effort to ban gifts from lobbyists, and it could send the proposal to the Senate this week.

House members gave first-round approval Thursday to this year's bill, which would ban gifts from lobbyists to elected officials, with a few exceptions such as flower arrangements and speaking fees. It's sponsored again by Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann.

"I'm really excited to get this out of the way very quickly, to give it ample time over in the Missouri Senate, and having...the second floor pushing it, I think, (puts it) in the best position this bill has been in in the past couple of years," Alferman said.

The "second floor" is a reference to the location of governor's office in the Capitol.

House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, told reporters Thursday he has the option of just making it a House rule not to accept lobbyists gifts, but would prefer a permanent law.

"If we're not able to get that bill across the finish line, then we'll revisit some other options at that time," he said. "But the best policy for this state is to have a permanent policy in place that has the full force and effect of law."

House Democratic floor leader Gail McCann Beatty of Kansas City also prefers a permanent law, saying that using a rule to ban lobbyist gifts to House members would be "ludicrous." She called Alferman's bill a move in the right direction, but objects to another exemption that would allow lobbyists to provide free dinners, as long as every lawmaker AND statewide elected official receives a written invitation to the event within 72 hours.

"While it was pointed out that often these dinners are (provided by) benevolent organizations, we also know that there are organizations out there who offer dinners to the entire General Assembly simply so that they don't have to report them," McCann Beatty said.

Last year's versionof the lobbyist gift ban sailed through the Missouri House, passing in late January 2016. But it died in the Missouri Senate over complaints that it was too broadly written and could land a lawmaker in hot water for something as obscure as eating a slice of pizza.

Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, made banning gifts from lobbyists one of his top campaign priorities during last year's governor's race. Less than an hour after taking the oath of office he signed an executive order that bars employees within his administration from accepting lobbyist gifts.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

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