- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - The Missouri Legislature on Tuesday agreed to ban lawmakers and statewide elected officials from working as paid political consultants while in office, the first bill lawmakers have approved in a package of legislation aimed at tightening the state’s loose ethics laws.

The Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the ban, part of a push for reform following the resignations last year of two lawmakers accused of inappropriate behavior toward interns. The House passed the bill 136-17 earlier this month. It now needs approval from Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who has said revamping ethics laws is a top priority for him.

The legislation would prohibit officeholders from getting paid to plan campaign strategies, fundraise or coordinate advertising. But it would allow politicians to enter into contracts with campaigns as long as their businesses are not ordinarily involved in politics. Political campaigns could also reimburse elected officials for expenses, such as gasoline.

“We’ve had situations in the past where people use their positions basically to profit from their jobs, and we really don’t want that kind of conflict of interest,” said House bill sponsor Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin.

Some Democrats have said the legislation doesn’t go far enough. House Minority Leader Jake Hummel has said it addresses a problem the Legislature currently isn’t facing and has criticized it because it doesn’t cover elected officials’ staff.

GOP House Speaker Todd Richardson has been pushing to clean up the Capitol’s culture and image since taking over for Republican John Diehl, who resigned on the last day of session last year after admitting to exchanging sexually suggestive texts with an intern.

Months later, Paul LeVota, the former Democratic state senator from Independence, left office amid allegations that he sexually harassed interns, which he denied.

Claims of inappropriate behavior have continued to draw attention to Jefferson City this session.

Former St. Louis-area Republican lawmaker Don Gosen resigned from the House last month under pressure because he said word of his extramarital affair was spreading. A House attorney on Monday said the Legislature is imposing rules on Capitol visits by a political operative accused of sexually harassing legislative interns.

Measures to ban lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and end the revolving door of lawmakers immediately becoming lobbyists after leaving public office still are pending in the Legislature.

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