- Associated Press - Monday, January 11, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Future Missouri lawmakers and those up for re-election would have to wait a full session of the Legislature after they leave office to become lobbyists under a bill approved by a House panel Monday, the first day members could do so in the 2016 session.

Approval of that bill and three others makes ethics proposals the first to move to the full House during a legislative session shadowed by the resignations of two former legislators accused of inappropriate behavior toward interns.

GOP House Speaker Todd Richardson said in a statement that the hope is to vote the bills out of the House by the end of the week, a quick turnaround for legislation so early in the session.

“For months now I have said the first priority for this legislative body will be to move forward with substantive, meaningful ethics reform,” Richardson said. “I am proud of my colleagues for quickly working to make good on this promise with legislation that will help us to improve the culture at the Capitol.”

Richardson’s predecessor, John Diehl, left the House in disarray when he admitted to exchanging sexually suggestive text messages with a Capitol intern and resigned on the last day of the 2015 session. Former Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, stepped down months later amid allegations that he sexually harassed interns, which he denied.

The House in response required annual sexual harassment training for all members and staff. Richardson has said clamping down on the state’s loose ethics laws is needed to restore public trust in Jefferson City.

Missouri is the only state with the trio of no limits on campaign contributions, unlimited lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and no prohibition on lawmakers leaving office and immediately becoming lobbyists.

That 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.

The bill by Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, which was approved by the committee 7-1 Monday, would require lawmakers and other state elected officials, as well as officials appointed by the governor who need Senate confirmation, to wait a legislative session to become lobbyists after leaving office. Sessions run from January to mid-May.

The cooling-off period would apply to lawmakers and most other officials elected after Jan. 1, 2016. The measure also would apply to current lawmakers and other officials up for re-election.

Other measures moving to the full House include a bill to ramp up reporting of elected officials’ personal finances from once a year to twice and a ban on lawmakers and statewide elected officials also working as paid political consultants. Another proposal would require officials to disclose travel expenses paid for by a third party within 30 days of the trip or 30 days after the money is given.

Rep. Gina Mitten, a St. Louis Democrat, voted in favor of the four proposals and said they’re necessary small steps. But she criticized the revolving-door bill, saying it needed to clamp-down more on lawmakers who leave office early to become lobbyists and that it should apply to all those currently in office. She also called for limits on campaign contributions, which were not among the proposals discussed Monday.

“I don’t believe that these bills go far enough,” Mitten said.

Rep. Jay Barnes, a Jefferson City Republican and House Government Oversight and Accountability Committee chairman, said he wants the panel next week to review more ethics bills, including a ban on lobbyist gifts.

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