- Associated Press - Thursday, April 21, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Hours after the Missouri Senate sent legislation to Gov. Jay Nixon aimed at clamping down the state’s loose ethics laws, senators voted for a provision to strip a gift ban from a bill that was intended to bar lobbyist gifts to lawmakers.

The measures taken up Wednesday are part of a renewed push for ethics reform following scandals that brought national attention to Jefferson City last year. Two lawmakers, including the former House speaker, resigned amid accusations of inappropriate behavior toward interns. The spotlight gave momentum to tighter ethics rules that have failed to pass for years.

The first measure that passed Wednesday would bar lawmakers and other statewide elected officials from becoming lobbyists until six months after the end of their terms and would apply to current and future officeholders. Senators voted 31-1 in favor of it.

Nixon appears likely to sign it; he’s called for ethics changes since assuming office in 2009 and backs ending the revolving-door of lawmakers becoming lobbyists.

Current law 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.

While the cooling-off period legislation passed the Senate overwhelmingly, it and other ethics bills have been criticized by some as politically motivated and potentially ineffective at changing Capitol culture.

“I don’t think this is for anything other than the stories that are going to be written in the paper,” said Kansas City Republican Sen. Ryan Silvey, who questioned another provision in the legislation passed Wednesday to put limits on gubernatorial appointees from working as paid lobbyists.

Kansas City Democrat Sen. Jason Holsman said he and others would vote for it, “even though it’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek vote.”

Senators also voted 30-1 in favor of allowing campaigns to invest only in short-term treasury or bank certificates to limit the returns candidates could earn. Candidates registering as lobbyists would also need to dissolve their campaign committees under the legislation. Any remaining money would have to be returned to donors, donated to a political party organization or given to charity.

The legislation would have prevented Tilley from holding on to hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars while working as a lobbyist. He doled some money out and accrued interest on the rest for years until he terminated his campaign in October. One of his last, largest single donations was $562,500, which went to a GOP political action committee called Missouri Majority PAC.

The campaign-investing measure drew criticism from those who say it doesn’t go far enough. Warrensburg Republican Sen. David Pearce, the only vote against it, said it should have done more to increase campaign finance transparency.

Senators later that night voted to gut the gift ban from a gift-ban bill. Members voted 23-8 in favor of an amendment to instead enact a $40 spending limit per occasion per lobbyist for each lawmaker.

“There’s essentially no ban whatsoever,” said Republican Sen. Rob Schaaf, of St. Joseph.

Senate handler Sen. Bob Onder, a Lake St. Louis Republican, said there’s “considerable political will” against efforts to ban lobbyist gifts.

He said he’d rather set some limits on lobbyist gifts to curb the current policy, which he described as “the sky’s the limit.”

Onder said he questions whether a full gift ban could pass out of the chamber.

The Senate continued to debate that bill and proposed changes into Thursday morning. The measure can still be changed, and still needs a final vote to pass the Senate. After the Senate votes, it would go back to the House.

The session ends May 13.

___

Associated Press writer Adam Aton contributed to this report.


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