- Associated Press - Thursday, February 18, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri senators passed a bill Thursday to prohibit lawmakers from quitting mid-term to become lobbyists, a much scaled-back version of legislation that has been discussed for the past several weeks as part of larger ethics campaign aimed at repairing the Legislature’s image.

The vote came a day after a third lawmaker in the past year resigned under pressure, and critics said the allegations of bad behavior that have tarnished the Legislature’s reputation cannot be dealt with through traditional laws on lobbying, gifts and disclosures.

Lawmakers could immediately lobby fellow legislators after their terms expire under the version passed 31-1 by the Senate, which also would apply to those currently in office. That would stop the practice of legislators stepping down early to become lobbyists, but falls well short of a proposal debated earlier that would have required elected officials to wait a year after their terms expire.

Sen. Bob Onder, a Lake St. Louis Republican who guided the House bill through the Senate, said the goal is to end the “almost scandalous” practice of leaving office early to enter lobbying or doing so immediately at the end of a term. Supporters of a revolving-door ban say the offer of a potentially more lucrative lobbying job could influence lawmakers, and argue that legislators could have greater influence as lobbyists soon after leaving office because of connections made as officials.

The Senate action comes during efforts to change Missouri’s loose ethics laws.

The last legislative session ended in chaos when the previous House speaker, John Diehl, admitted to exchanging sexually charged text messages with a Capitol intern and then stepped down. Months later, Democratic Sen. Paul LeVota of Independence also resigned under pressure after being accused of sexually harassing interns. LeVota has denied the accusations.

Senators began debate on the bill Wednesday, the day former Rep. Don Gosen resigned and cited rumors about “some personal issues.”

Despite the push for change, the measure faced roadblocks in the Senate. Criticism ranged from those who wanted lobbying bans for two years or more to legislators opposed to any waiting period.

Republican Sen. Dave Schatz, who proposed cutting the one-year lobbying ban from the bill, was among senators who criticized efforts to put limits on elected officials’ work after leaving public office. Schatz also disputed that there are problems with current practices and questioned whether the public cares.

“We’re trying to solve a perception issue that doesn’t exist,” Schatz said.

Skeptics of the revolving door, meanwhile, argued that ending that practice and adopting other ethics proposals now under review would not have prevented the scandals that shadow the Capitol.

“What we’re talking about doing is putting something on paper, and it is not going to change a single thing,” said Sen. Bob Dixon, a Springfield Republican and the only lawmaker to vote against the measure.

Bill sponsor Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, agreed the legislation can’t prevent all inappropriate behavior.

“It won’t keep people from making bad decisions morally, but I think there’s an ethical environment that we’re trying to create here and help with public perception,” Rowden said. “I don’t know if what they’re doing today helps that.”

The measure now heads back to the House, where Rowden said lawmakers likely will try to strengthen it again.

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Revolving-door bill is HB1979

Online:

House: https://house.mo.gov.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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