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Nixon signs first ethics bill of 2016, Missouri House passes another

Tim Bommel|Missouri House Communications

The first of several ethics proposals to come out of the Missouri legislature this year has been signed into law.

Gov. Jay Nixon signed House Bill 1983 during a brief ceremony in his state Capitol office. It bars lawmakers and other elected officials from hiring each other as paid political consultants.

Nixon, a Democrat, calls it a step in the right direction, but said that much more needs to be done to improve the state's ethics climate.

"Missouri's ethics laws remain the weakest in the nation," Nixon said. "There are no limits on campaign contributions, no limits on lobbyists gifts, no restrictions on revolving door between legislating and lobbying, and no safeguards to prevent legislators from using their public positions for private gain."

This bill, which bans office holders from hiring each other as political consultants, was sponsored by Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin.

"It's essential that we safeguard public trust in elected officials, and this bill is an important first step in doing that," Dogan said. "I do think it's very important that the public be able to trust that the people they elect to office in Jefferson City ... are here for the right reasons, not to profit and make to personal gain from their public office."

The House, meanwhile, passed another ethics bill Thursday. House Bill 1979 would create a six-month waiting period before former lawmakers and statewide officeholders could become lobbyists. It's sponsored by Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia.

"You know, I think the final product, it's not perfect by everyone's individual standards, but I do think it moves the ball definitely in the right direction," Rowden said. "I'm hopeful, based on the conversations we've had, that the Senate is going to be able to pick that up and pass it."

Credit Tim Bommel|Missouri House Communications
Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia.

Rowden's bill originally would have imposed a one-year cooling-off period, but a group of senators strongly opposed any waiting period. It also would have exempted lawmakers currently in office, but that provision was removed in exchange for the six-month wait.

"It truly was a give-and-take," Rowden said.

Status of other ethics proposals:

Lobbyist gift ban: House Bill 2166 would ban gifts from lobbyists. It was passed by the House in late January, but it stalled in the Senate in late February after some senators complained that the bill was too broadly written.

Campaign accounts: House Bill 2203 would require any money held by former lawmakers be held in bank accounts that can make that money readily available. The Senate added language requiring former lawmakers to dissolve any campaign committees before becoming a lobbyist. A compromise version of the bill has been drafted.

Travel expenses: House Bill 1575 would require elected officials to disclose travel expenses that were paid for by a third party within 30 days. The bill passed the House on January 14, but has been stalled in the Senate since mid-February.

Definition of public official: House Bill 2226 adds special executive branch appointees to the definition of public official, which would cover task force members appointed by the governor. It was passed by the House in late January and by a Senate committee in February, but has yet to come before the full Senate.

House Bill 2226 was crafted at the height of a recent dispute between Nixon and Republican lawmakers over whether he had the authority to extend bond payments on the Edward Jones Dome without additional approval from lawmakers or voters. The issue has received less attention since the Rams left St. Louis for Los Angeles earlier this year.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

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