JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The House Committee on General Laws spent an hour-and-a-half Tuesday afternoon hearing five different proposals that all take different approaches at ethics reform. Lawmakers left that hearing appearing to agree that ethics reform is needed. Governor Jay Nixon and Secretary of State Jason Kander have also called for ethics reform, and legislation on the issue was also heard in a Senate committee Tuesday afternoon.
Three of those bills include a limitation on how quickly after leaving office a former legislator can become a lobbyist. That was one provision that drew criticism from some lawmakers.
Representative Rocky Miller (R-Tuscumbia) questions the need for such a provision.
“Everybody wants to limit what somebody does for a living. I thought the whole point of being a free nation was that we could grow up and become adults and go to work and do what we want to do for a living.”
Representative Mike Colona (D-St. Louis County) says such provisions could cause the law to be thrown out by a judge.
“You’re telling me I can’t work in an industry that I’ve been in for the last 8 years, or 6 years, or 4 years, to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.”
Representative Kevin McManus (D-Kansas City) says one problem with lawmakers immediately becoming lobbyists is that those individuals would be allowed to convert campaign contributions to personal use for someone else.
He explains to one committee member, “If you employ me to work on your campaign and you pay me $10,000 and I don’t do one thing, you’ve just transferred your campaign funds to me and we’ve gotten around this whole issue of converting campaign funds to private use.”
Committee Chairman Caleb Jones (R-Columbia) suggests that rather than one, comprehensive proposal, the committee should consider sending out several bills that address different ethics issues.
“My concern is,” Jones says, “that this would go before a judge on one piece of [a large bill], the judge is going to throw the whole bill out and we’re stuck back where we are, where the public keeps having concerns about how we operate.”
McManus, whose proposal is the largest of the five heard Tuesday, told Jones he would be open to breaking its provisions up into a series of bills.
Policy Director John Scott with the Secretary of State’s Office commended the committee for taking on the ethics issue.
“I think it speaks well of the committee … I think Missourians around the state who have expressed support for ethics reform would really appreciate that.”
The committee has not voted on any of those bills.
The five proposals are: