- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Missouri’s Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon said Tuesday that state ethics laws need to be revamped in light of accusations that led to the resignations of two state lawmakers this year.

Nixon criticized the culture of the Capitol during remarks at a school administrators’ conference in Columbia, calling the state the “Wild West” of ethics laws.

Missouri appears to be the only state with the trio of unlimited campaign contributions, unlimited lobbyist gifts and the ability for lawmakers to immediately become lobbyists after leaving office. Nixon called on lawmakers to end that next session. He also said the legislative session - which currently runs from January to mid-May - should be shorter.

“We should get serious about the fundamental problems that grow into the challenges we’ve seen,” Nixon said, citing “issues that affect the public policy that the Legislature pursues, and the people they work with and the students that come there during college.”

The governor’s comments came only days after Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, announced plans to resign following allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances toward interns, with one former intern accusing him of sexual harassment. Former Republican House Speaker John Diehl resigned on the last day of session in May after admitting to exchanging sexually suggestive text messages with a Capitol intern.

Lawmakers failed in this past session to pass legislation to change state ethics laws, and have been similarly unsuccessful in recent years.

Nixon said the next legislative session could be different partly because he said there’s public support for such changes and partly because of what he said have been “high-profile challenges” lawmakers have faced during a tumultuous year in Missouri politics.

Nixon said he plans to work with legislative leaders to revamp ethics laws. Republican Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey and Republican House Speaker Todd Richardson did not immediately return messages seeking comment Tuesday.

Lawmakers have shown interest in changing ethics laws. A bill passed by both chambers last session would have prevented lawmakers from entering lobbying right after leaving office, in hopes of preventing legislators from using their position to later find a lucrative job - but senators and representatives couldn’t agree on a final version of the bill.

The Senate majority leader had said the main sticking point was a $25 gift limit for lawmakers that senators felt could drive lobbyist spending underground.

Nixon also announced Tuesday that special elections are set for Nov. 3 to replace Diehl and fill other vacant House seats. He said he’s waiting to deal with LeVota’s Senate seat, which LeVota said he’ll vacate in late August.

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Follow Summer Ballentine at https://twitter.com/esballentine


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