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Mo. House Democrats cry foul over crowded ethics bill

Marshall Griffin, St. Louis Public Radio

By Marshall Griffin, St. Louis Public Radio

Jefferson City, Mo. – Democrats in the Missouri House are crying foul over what they call a "sham" ethics bill passed by the Republican majority Thursday.

The wide-ranging bill would place a $20,000 cap on campaign contributions for candidates seeking statewide office. But the bill's language is not clear on whether that rule would apply to House and Senate members.

House Minority Floor Leader Paul LeVota (D, Independence) says the ambiguity, though, delivers a clear message: "The Republican majority wanted to exempt themselves and put restrictions on other people," LeVota said.

Speaker Pro-tem Bryan Pratt vehemently disagreed, saying they are not exempting themselves from the cap.

"The intention of the House as we passed (it) today was to make the campaign contribution limits apply to us...I don't care what anyone says out there in the world, the intention in the language does (apply to state lawmakers)."

Pratt added, "And if (at) some point in conference committee we need to clean up that language and to make overwhelmingly clear what we mean, we'll do it, because that is our intention."

During floor debate, Pratt went so far as to say that the ethics bill was, "the most comprehensive and sweeping ethics reform bill in the universe." That comment drew catcalls from Democrats, who were gaveled down by House Speaker Ron Richard (R, Joplin).

The bill also has provisions associated with other issues. They include: Requiring voters to show photo ID's at the polls, authorizing other state office holders besides the Attorney General to file lawsuits on behalf of the state, requiring the use of secret ballots for collective bargaining votes, and limiting who can run license fee offices to city and county tax collectors.

Republicans say all of those areas are tied to ethics. But Assistant Minority Floor Leader J.C. Kuessner (D, Eminence) says the bill is designed to fail.

"For eight years now, we've watched the majority party put something like this together, run it through the House for political purposes, send it over to the Senate, knowing that they're going to lay it aside and never see it again, and I believe that's what this case is...I expect the bill to die, I don't think you'll see any more of it," Kuessner said.

Democrats also contend that those provisions violate the constitutional rule limiting bills to a single subject. But GOP leaders say it would withstand any constitutional challenges in court.

The bill now goes to the Missouri Senate, with only a week left in the 2010 session.