- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 6, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri lawmakers, including those currently in office, would need to wait six months after the end of their terms before lobbying in the Capitol under a tentative compromise reached Wednesday by legislative negotiators.

The proposal to end the revolving door of lawmakers-to-lobbyists - legislators can immediately lobby their former colleagues after leaving office - is part of a broader push to revamp ethics following the resignations of two former lawmakers who left office last year amid allegations of inappropriate behavior toward interns.

Republican sponsor Rep. Caleb Rowden, of Columbia, said the bill is aimed at addressing corruption and the Capitol’s reputation. “The perception is pretty darn bad,” Rowden said.

Missouri is the only state with the trio of unlimited campaign contributions, uncapped lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and no cooling-off period for lawmakers who want to become lobbyists after leaving office. One such lawmaker was Independence Republican Rep. Noel Torpey, who after winning re-election quit the Legislature weeks before the start of the 2015 legislative session, to take a job with a group that has lobbied lawmakers on utility issues.

GOP House Speaker Todd Richardson has led the push for ethics reform after he took over for John Diehl, who stepped down from the House’s top leadership position on the last day of session last year and admitted to exchanging sexually suggestive texts with a Capitol intern. Months later, Paul LeVota, a Democratic senator from Independence, resigned amid claims that he sexually harassed interns, though he denied the allegations.

The ethical questions remain in this session: Former Rep. Don Gosen was pressured into leaving office in February because he said word of his extramarital affair was circulating in the Capitol. None of the ethics measures in front of the Missouri Legislature this session deal with affairs.

Wednesday’s deal to end the revolving-door practice comes after the House and Senate disagreed on how long lawmakers should wait before lobbying. The House in January passed a proposal to create a one-year cooling off period that would apply to current lawmakers and statewide elected officials running for re-election or those who are elected this fall or later, while senators set lobbying limits when officials’ terms’ are set to end, effectively stripping the cooling-off period.

Senate negotiators on Wednesday fought against a one-year ban on lobbying, arguing that such a proposal wouldn’t pass the chamber and saying it would limit lawmakers’ ability to find work when they leave the Legislature.

“We have senators who believe in the free market,” Kansas City Democrat Sen. Jason Holsman said. “We have senators who believe it is not the government’s job to restrict access to employment, and that’s why we can’t get it through.”

Republican Rep. Justin Alferman, of Hermann, said officials should not use their service to the state to find private employment.

The full House and Senate must approve the panel’s proposed deal before it could head to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who has said he supports ending the revolving door.

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