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Lobbyists Banned From St. Louis Board Of Aldermen Chamber

The Board of Aldermen chambers on July 7, 2017.
File photo | Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio
The St. Louis Board of Aldermen voted Friday to ban lobbyists from the floor of the chamber. They will be able to watch the proceedings from the upstairs gallery.

In a change that lawmakers acknowledged was a long time coming, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen has voted to ban lobbyists from the floor of the chamber.

The ban was part of the board’s operating rules adopted Friday by a 22-2 vote, with one alderman voting present.

Aldermen had tried since 2016 to pass a bill that limited lobbyists to the hallways, side rooms or the upstairs gallery of the chamber. Opponents had always argued that a change to the rules was a better way to go.

After Friday, lobbyists will only be allowed on the floor if they are being presented with an official resolution, or if they are testifying in front of the full Board of Aldermen during a committee of the whole meeting, which are exceedingly rare.

“I think it’s an important step for this body to sort of rein things in and take ourselves a little more seriously so everyone else does as well,” said Alderman Jack Coatar, D-7th Ward. He was in charge of the resolution that contained the rules.

Members of the press, employees of certain city agencies, and individuals with disabilities who might not be able to access the upstairs gallery would still be able to sit downstairs.

Aldermen also voted to scrap a controversial plan that would have required passes to sit in the upstairs gallery. Access will now be on a first-come, first-served basis.

Among other changes, the board adopted gender-neutral language throughout the rules and created a new committee — Education & Youth Matters.

The new committee will be crucial as the elected board of the St. Louis Public Schools prepares to regain power on July 1, said Alderman Shane Cohn, D-25th Ward, who proposed its creation.

“We hope to have a very smooth transition in that respect, and I think that all of us individually are very much in tune with those changes that are happening and having those conversations,” Cohn said. “This is a committee that can start doing that work and start providing a safe space and a voice for the young people in our community to start having that dialogue.”

Aldermen rejected a change suggested by Alderwoman Sharon Tyus, D-1st Ward, that would have allowed past terms at the board to count toward seniority in specific redistricting circumstances.

After the 2001 census report, Tyus’ previous 20th Ward was dropped into south St. Louis around Gravois Park, and she was drawn into the 1st Ward, which was not up for election in 2003. Although she was eventually elected from the 1st Wardin 2013, she lost the seniority she’d built up in the 1990s. Committee chairmanships are based on seniority.

Tyus was furious with the 16-10 vote against her amendment.

“I am appalled at the people who voted no who I have helped,” she said. “This will be continued. I’m not angry now; I’m focused. For those of you who voted no, don’t come in my office and ask for anything from me anymore, because you won’t get it.”

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Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.