- Associated Press - Friday, May 6, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri lawmakers who want to become lobbyists soon will have to wait six months after their terms end under legislation signed Friday by Gov. Jay Nixon.

The move is part of a push to reform the state’s loose ethics laws following the resignations last year of several legislators, who either stepped down to become lobbyists or because of allegedly inappropriate actions toward interns.

The legislation Nixon signed chips away at Missouri’s former status as the only state with the trio of unlimited campaign contributions, unlimited lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and no waiting period for lawmakers seeking to become lobbyists. The new six-month waiting period for paid lobbying applies to current and future legislators, as well as statewide elected officials and appointed officials subject to Senate confirmation.

The Democratic governor also signed a measure passed by the Republican-led Legislature requiring elected officials get rid of their campaign money before becoming paid lobbyists, as well as banning most investments of that money. Both laws take effect Aug. 28.

Earlier this year, Nixon also signed a law banning lawmakers from paying each other to work as political consultants. He said the new laws “make incremental progress for badly needed ethics reform in Missouri.”

Longstanding efforts to change ethics laws have gained momentum this year as legislative leaders work to clean up the Capitol’s image and culture after the last legislative session ended in embarrassment. John Diehl, the last GOP House speaker, stepped down on the final day of the 2015 session and admitted to exchanging sexually suggestive text messages with an intern. Months later, former state senator Paul LeVota resigned amid allegations that he sexually harassed interns; the Democrat has denied the claims.

The legislation gaining traction this session doesn’t address sexual harassment or lawmaker and intern relationships, but the measure signed by Nixon on Friday would have banned the early departures of several other legislators in recent years.

Previous ethics policies had allowed former House speaker and Perryville Republican Steve Tilley to resign in August 2012 and work as a paid lobbyist for clients including construction companies. Former Independence Republican Rep. Noel Torpey quit in December 2014, months after winning re-election and weeks before the start of the 2015 legislative session, to take a job with a group that has lobbied the Legislature on utility issues.

With one week left in the legislative session, lawmakers still are mulling over additional ethics proposals, such as limits on lobbyist gifts to elected officials. Efforts to set limits on campaign contributions have not been successful and appear unlikely to pass. Republican House Speaker Todd Richardson, who has led efforts since he replaced Diehl, said he’d like to see some proposals pass before the May 13 deadline.

House Democrats questioned the chances of the proposed limits on lobbyist gifts, or any other ethics proposals, of passing.

“What they’ve done is what they’re going to do,” Kansas City Rep. John Rizzo, the Democratic whip, told reporters Thursday. “Even though some of it is a good step, it’s a small step.”

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Lobbyist waiting period is HB 1979

Lobbyist campaign money is HB 2203

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Online:

Legislature: http://moga.mo.gov

Governor: http://gov.mo.gov

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