- Associated Press - Sunday, December 25, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Maybe this time, with support from Republican Gov.-elect Eric Greitens, Missouri lawmakers will be able to keep lobbyists from gifting officeholders with swanky steakhouse dinners or tickets to Beyonce concerts and baseball games.

If lawmakers fail to deliver in the 2017 session, it’ll break a campaign promise from Greitens, who largely focused on how he’d tackle corruption in the Capitol, which in recent years has been marred by ethics scandals, and said such a ban is his first goal.

It’s also among the top priorities for House Speaker Todd Richardson, who said he was personally disappointed when an ethics bills didn’t pass last session.

“There’s going to be a lot of momentum behind ethics reform,” he said.

The issue has been tossed about for years, but has never passed.

In the 2016 session, the House approved a ban, but the Senate amended the bill to allow a lobbyist to pay for $40 worth of food per lawmaker per day - in practice enabling legislators to eat free breakfast, lunch and dinner. The changed bill didn’t move forward. Critics said the gift ban was politically motivated and potentially ineffective at changing Capitol culture.

“There are some senators that don’t like the idea of the gift ban,” said state Sen. Rob Schaaf, referring to, among other things, lobbyist-paid dinners during late session days. “So that’s a problem.”

The St. Joseph Republican is proposing a gift ban with an exception for honorary plaques.

Democratic Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, of University City, said she uses lobbyist gifts “as a service,” passing them along to constituents.

She stressed that gifts and dinners should be reported publicly as required by current law.

“Everything should be in the light, and as long as it’s reported and as long as you can justify it with the residents that you represent, that’s important,” she said.

Hermann Republican Rep. Justin Alferman, who also is sponsoring a gift ban, said there might need to be a compromise - capping gifts instead of completely eliminating them.

Other ethics proposals include not letting lawmakers and statewide officials become lobbyists until two years after their terms end. Currently, officeholders must wait six months after their terms are set to end.

Greitens has proposed a one-to-one limit, meaning officials would need to wait to register as a lobbyist for as many years as they’ve been in office.

The legislative session begins Jan. 4.


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